On the Wednesday before Norouz—commonly referred to as the Persian New Year—many Iranians take part in chahar shanbeh soori, a fire-jumping ceremony that signifies entering a new year. This year, Hamid Salimian, a culinary instructor at Vancouver Community College, plans on taking in the festivities with family at Ambleside Park.
“There’s usually a big fire pit, and people jump over it to leave the past behind and move forward,” he tells the Georgia Straight during an interview at his Vancouver home. “The first day of the new year is also [considered] the first day of spring.” (This year, Norouz falls on Thursday [March 20].)
Salimian was born in northern Iran and moved to Canada with his family as a teenager. He studied culinary arts at VCC, and after graduating he worked his way through B.C. hotels, including the Sutton Place Hotel, the Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa in Victoria, Richmond’s Westin Wall Centre, and most recently the Metropolitan Hotel Vancouver. As executive chef of the latter’s Diva at the Met restaurant, he was known for blending Middle Eastern and Pacific Northwest flavours using French techniques. Last year, Vancouver chefs and restaurateurs voted Diva at the Met the most underrated restaurant in Metro Vancouver, and Salimian Metro Vancouver’s best chef, in the Georgia Straight’s Golden Plate awards.
In June 2013, Salimian left the Met and began teaching at VCC. His recent activities include working toward the Culinary Olympics as captain of Culinary Team Canada and working with his wife, chef Jennifer Peters, on a line of gluten-free flour called NextJen.
“It’s hard to eat gluten-free, but it’s easy if people know what to do,” says Salimian, explaining that he is gluten-intolerant, while Peters has celiac disease. “Hopefully, we can bring back what it felt like to have wheat at home.” The pair plan to launch a gluten-free all-purpose flour this spring, followed by a sourdough mix, a whole-grain mix, and a fish-and-chips batter mix.
This Norouz, Salimian will visit family in Pitt Meadows, where up to 14 dishes will be served for a New Year’s feast. He explains that certain foods have symbolic meaning.
“We serve reshteh polo, which is a rice noodle that represents longevity,” he says. “We serve kookoo sabzi because it’s spring and the fresh herbs are growing.”
The latter dish, which is similar to a frittata, is filled with dill, parsley, cilantro, fenugreek, and either garlic scapes or scallions. Zereshk berries and a squeeze of orange juice over top add acidity, while walnuts give it a slight crunch. (Salimian says the berries are available from most Persian grocers, and he recommends buying the walnuts at a Middle Eastern store.)
“You could have kookoo sabzi for breakfast, lunch, or in a sandwich—it’s the best in a sandwich. It’s gluten-free. It’s vegetarian. It also deep-fries very well,” he explains, adding that the dish is commonly served with a side of fried fish.
Salimian notes that pairing Persian food with wine can be difficult and says that many Persian families prefer to drink syrup soda instead. “Basically, it’s like a pop. You combine soda water with fruit syrup. Then we sit and eat and just enjoy family-style platters passed around.”
Hamid Salimian’s Kookoo sabzi
½ cup (125 mL) cooking oil, divided, or 10 tsp (50 mL) unsalted butter, divided 5 green onions, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp (15 mL) dried fenugreek
1 Tbsp (15 mL) salt
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed, finely chopped
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems removed, finely chopped
2 bunches dill, stems removed, finely chopped
3 large eggs 1 lemon, juiced and zested
1½ cups (375 mL) walnuts, roughly chopped
¼ cup (60 mL) dried zereshk (Persian berries)
1 Seville orange
- Preheat oven to 375 ° F (190 ° C).
- Heat ¼ cup (60 mL) of the oil or 7 tsp (35 mL) of the butter in an oven-safe pan over medium-high heat. Add green onion and cook for 1 minute, or until crispy.
- Add fenugreek, salt, and herbs. Lower heat to medium and cook for 4 minutes, or until herbs start to brown.
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together eggs, lemon juice, and lemon zest.
- Transfer cooked herb mixture to a large bowl and reserve pan for later use. Add walnuts, zereshk, and egg mixture to the bowl and stir together.
- Heat remaining ¼ cup (60 mL) oil or 3 tsp (15 mL) butter in pan over medium heat. Add egg mixture to pan and cook for 2 minutes until mixture starts bubbling. Transfer pan to oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until centre is firm.
- To serve, flip kookoo sabzi upsidedown onto a large plate. Squeeze juice from orange over top and cut into 4 servings.
4 boneless, skin-on fillets of fish, such as trout, about 5 oz (140 g) each
¼ cup (60 mL) cooking oil
2 Tbsp (30 mL) butter
- Using a knife, score the skin of each fillet. Salt both sides of the fish and lay the pieces on a paper towel, skin-side down, to absorb extra moisture.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Carefully add two fillets, skin-side down. Cook for about 2 minutes until edges of fish change colour. Using a spatula, carefully flip each piece over. Cook for 5 more seconds and transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining two fillets.
- Reduce heat to medium and add butter to the pan. When butter has melted, transfer fish back into pan, skin-side up. Using a spoon, scoop the melted butter over the fish for 5 to 10 seconds to finish cooking.
- Line a plate with a paper towel and place fish on top to absorb excess oil. Transfer fish to a plate and serve.
Yield: 4 servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.