- Guests at the 2019 Nauruz event at UVM
This week, the dining services kitchen at the University of Vermont's Dudley H. Davis Center will be filled with the unusual aromas of floral saffron and tart barberries. The cooking crew will be different, too.
After a two-year break, the Iranian Student Association at UVM will once again cook and host its Persian New Year dinner on Friday, March 18, at 6 p.m. The event, which is open to the public, celebrates Nauruz, a holiday of spring and new life.
"For us, it is the most important celebration of the year," said Hani Mavalizadeh, who came to UVM in 2019 from Iran to pursue graduate studies in electrical engineering. Mavalizadeh, 33, and fellow Iranian and bioengineering graduate student Atena Farhangian, 34, are among 20 members of the association who will prepare food for more than 100 people.
During a recent interview on campus, the pair detailed the menu, which will start with eggplant with dried yogurt; fried onions, garlic and mint; and walnuts. Main dishes will include vegetarian grape leaves stuffed with rice, barberries and herbs; and marinated chicken with barberry-and-saffron rice. Saffron rice pudding topped with almonds will finish the meal.
Mavalizadeh and Farhangian explained that Nauruz has roots in the ancient Zoroastrian religion. It has become a national holiday for Iranians of all backgrounds and is celebrated in other countries, including Turkey and Afghanistan.
Nauruz preparations begin weeks in advance. "You have to clean your house and buy new clothes," Mavalizadeh said. "It symbolizes the renewal of nature."
The flavors of favorite foods infuse their holiday memories. Mavalizadeh described a sweet his mother makes with rice noodles, honey and pistachios. Farhangian recalled staying up all night with her aunt and cousins before the holiday to make cookies and treats, including a favorite candy of nuts mixed into honey that's been boiled with vinegar.
The pair explained that the Nauruz feast often stars a whole, roasted fish stuffed with garlic, herbs and raisins. "If you eat fish on the first day of the year, it brings wealth and success," Mavalizadeh said.
The students will set up a Haft-Sin table with seven symbolic items whose names begin with the letter S in Farsi. These include apples (seeb), which stand for health and beauty, and vinegar (serekh), representing patience and age. Wheat pudding (samanu) symbolizes fertility and the sweetness of life.
Made with just wheat and water and stirred for hours, samanu becomes thick and sweet without any sugar, Farhangian said. "We would start in the morning, crushing and grinding the wheat, and finish early the next morning," she recalled.
The evening will include a short presentation on the holiday and finish with dancing. "We want to put good memories about Iran in people's minds," Mavalizadeh said. "We want to show that what our government does does not reflect Iranian people and how we live our lives."
Tickets ($10 for students, $20 for nonstudents) must be purchased in advance through UVM Tickets.