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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New Afghani in Beverly Hills

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A sweet little patio at the back of a small parking lot in Beverly Hills, is home to the brand new Afghani Kebab House. The menu features fragrant rice dishes, grilled kebabs, meat filled dumplings and a variety of fruit and vegetables entrees suitable for vegetarians.  The food of Afghanistan is reminiscent of neighboring Iran’s Persian dishes, and a mild interpretation of the cuisines of Pakistan and India. The restaurant’s small kitchen cranks out homestyle flavors while catering to customers with warm and welcoming hospitality the region is known for.

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Carved wooden bowls filled with potato and garbanzo salad in a cilantro chutney, are an amuse-bouche that start guests off with a hint of the flavors to come.  Warm, airy Afghani flat bread is the traditional eating utensil, although the table is also set with fork and knife. The chewy, straight from the oven bread is addictive and we went through three baskets over the course of dinner.

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Always looking to incorporate healthy options into our diet, we started with the uber sweet Borani Kadoo, butternut squash, covered in ribbons of in-house made yogurt and a sprinkling of dried mint. This melt in your mouth appetizer is both soothing and gratifying.

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The eggplant appetizer, called Borani Badenjan, is sautéed with fresh tomatoes, garlic and peppers before being drizzled with homemade yogurt.

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The easy to devour mantu are dumplings stuffed with seasoned ground beef and sautéed onions, topped with yogurt, tomatoes, peas and herbs. These little beauties pair exceptionally well with the vibrant green herb sauce served alongside.

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Chicken Kabob skewers showcase tender boneless chicken breast marinated in Afghani Kebab House’s secret mix of oil, yogurt, herbs and spices before being charbroiled into plump, juicy chunks.

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For lamb lovers, the Quabili Pallow encompasses a hefty mound of richly seasoned basmati rice, raisins and julienned carrots atop tender lamb shank, a specialty of the house not to be missed. Dishes are large enough to share, which to us means more delicious Afghani food to sample.

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Be sure to save room for the warm walnut and pistachio baklava, whose  sweet and savory balance, coupled with the slight crunch through many layers of filo, makes this one of our favorite hidden LA desserts.

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Only three weeks old and already Afghani Kabob House has everything running smoothly, from congenial  service to the well prepared cuisine. We are looking forward to many balmy summer nights of affordable meals on their airy patio.

Afghani Kabob House
8560 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Phone – 310-854-1020

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