Friday was the first day of Nouruz, the Persian spring equinox celebration. The holiday begins when the sun enters the sign of Aries and continues for two weeks.
It's a joyful holiday, a sort of combination New Year's, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July and spring break. During the Middle Ages, it was celebrated throughout the Arab world and as far away as Spain. Today it is primarily Iranian again, being observed in Iran and Central Asia and by the Zoroastrians of India.
Coming at the end of the harsh Iranian winter, it's full of symbolism of change and renewal. You clean your house from top to bottom and wear new clothes. Throughout the two weeks of the holiday, people visit to exchange presents and eat sweets.
A couple of weeks before the holiday, you're supposed to start a sabzi or tray of wheat sprouts (in Iran, you can buy a ready-sprouted sabzi at stores). The sabzi appears on the dinner table on the first day of Nouruz along with six other foods whose names begin with "S." One will be Sekanjabin, a sweet-sour mint syrup, which is considered good for the health (in summer, two or three tablespoons of Sekanjabin on ice make a refreshing drink).
The 13th day of Nouruz is Sizde be-Dar, literally "13 at the door." On that day, people take a break from visiting others' houses and go for a picnic. At 5 p.m., you eat romaine leaves dipped in Sekanjabin, a light, refreshing snack with the fresh taste of spring. Just before you go home, you toss your sabzi as far as possible for luck.
2 cups water
6 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vinegar
3 to 4 sprigs mint
Romaine leaves, optional
Bring water and sugar to boil; then cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Add vinegar and boil 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add mint leaves and cool. Serve on ice as a drink or with romaine leaves for dipping.
24 servings. Each serving:
194 calories; 1 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 51 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0 fiber.