Azerbaijani-Style Novruz Spring Celebrations in California

The Vernal Equinox today marks the beginning of Novruz. A joyous holiday celebrating spring, peace, friendship, life in harmony with nature and as it literally translates, a new day.

Novruz is celebrated in Iran, Azerbaijan, Central and Western Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans. The California Azerbaijani Friendship Association, headed up by Ms. Kimiya Mammadova, held their Novruz Gala last Saturday night and we were thrilled to participate in the festivities.

Music and dance followed a lavish feast that included all the flavors of spring. Honoring of the the new season is best represented by the famous leek and herb laden egg dish called Kuku Sabzi. This healthy treat enlivens the senses with copious amounts of seasonal herbs including cilantro, parsley and dill. It can be eaten for breakfast, brunch, as an appetizer, side-dish or final touch to a holiday meal. We found the light, abundantly fragrant slices reminiscent of an overstuffed frittata and wouldn’t mind wedging some into freshly baked bread with yogurt and radishes, as recommended by Bon Appetit.

We were regaled with plates of stuffed pastries scattered across the table including the badambura above. Azerbaijani cuisine specializes in some of the best nut and fruit filled delicacies we’ve tasted. Their baklava’s cake like texture makes for a moist, balanced, unique interpretation of the filo dough encased sweet we tend to find in local Middle Eastern and Mediterranean establishments.

Stuffed grape leaves were a beefy powerhouse representing the elusive Azerbaijani cuisine served at the event. The delicacies were lovingly transported to Santa Ana from San Diego’s Cafe 21. An Azerbaijani owned Mediterranean gem that boasts two locations serving exceptional renditions of old and new favorites.

It is tradition to serve Plov during Novruz. The staple consists of crusted, perfectly cooked basmati rice, tender lamb, dried fruit and nuts that all blend into a symphony of sweet and savory satisfaction.

And no spring celebration is complete without a nod to the fresh fruit that is beginning to emerge as the weather transforms from winters chill into spring’s warmth and abundance. If you happen to be near a restaurant of the region, we strongly recommend you check out some of the holiday dishes and take full advantage of natures awesome blossoming.

Wishing everyone a joyous spring and Novruz Bayraminiz Mübarek, which means Happy Novruz.

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Culture and Cuisine Consultant

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