By Dana Luebke
In many parts of the world, the new year is celebrated in conjunction with the Spring Equinox and the greening of the earth. In Chinese Traditional Medicine, this season corresponds to the wood element, and transformation. Spring celebrations celebrate themes of transformation – of the return of vitality to the earth, of rebirth and fertility. Common in many places are bonfires to take away evil and illness. In India, Holi, signifying the victory of good over evil and the blossoming of love, features colouring each other with coloured powders and water. In Southeast Asia, April New Year’s Festivals include sprinkling or dousing each other with water.
One of the earliest celebrations is Nowruz, the ancient Persian New Year celebrated in Iran and Central Asia. It’s activities symbolize rebirth and the link between humans and nature. The Iranian poet Saadi (1210-1291) wrote: “Awaken, the morning Nowruz breeze is showering the garden with flowers.” Nowruz, which means “New Day”, goes back at least 3,000 years and is a Zoroastrian tradition which has survived the Islamic conquest of Central Asia.
Painted eggs are a Nowruz tradition, and it is probable that they spread from Persia to early Christians in Mesopotamia and thence to Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean where they are a part of many Easter traditions. In Tehran for Nowruz, a few years ago, I saw large painted egg sculptures all over the city. We are familiar in Canada with Psanky, Ukrainian Easter eggs, and there are many other variations of egg decorating traditions.
Green is the colour of the Wood Element and green features prominently in Noruz foods such as Sabzi Polo – an elaborate rice preparation with copious amounts of green herbs. Kuku Sabzi is another traditional dish that combines eggs and greens in a kind of thick frittata. (You will find a recipe for this delicious and nutritious dish at the end of the article.)
Iranian families prepare a special table called Haft Sin as it has seven items that start with the letter Sin with symbolic significance including sprouts of wheat, barley or lentils (symbolizing rebirth). The table also often includes coloured eggs and hyacinths, mirrors, candles, coins, a goldfish and a book of poetry.
In Europe, traditional Easter breads usually incorporate lots of eggs and butter – foods forbidden during Lent. In Greece and Italy they often feature coloured eggs baked in braided dough. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition they are taken to church to be blessed, along with eggs died red, the colour representing the blood of Jesus. Italian Torta Pasqualina is a pie with whole eggs baked in a bed of chard or spinach, eggs and cheese.
In Zenica, Bosnia, people celebrate the Equinox with Cimburijada, the festival of scrambled eggs. People gather early by the banks of the Bosna river, where a communal meal of scrambled eggs is prepared and people share their breakfast eggs with friends, families, and visitors while drinking and listening to music together to mark the first day of spring.
In Judaism, roasted eggs and green herbs are elements of the Passover Seder, representing festival sacrifice.
Cooking – Ritual and Transformation
I enjoy the process of cooking, the ritual of washing and chopping; the transformation of different cooking processes and of fermentation. Eating foods that are local and in season helps our digestion, which changes throughout the year with the weather and the microbes in the air we breath. I enjoy the harmonious relation of the colours of the elements and the seasons: the first greens of spring, the red berries of summer, the yellow and orange squashes and carrots of harvest time, white potatoes and parsnips in autumn as our systems prepare for winter. I can’t think of many blue foods for the Winter/Water element except for the lovely blue potatoes, but I enjoy the salty winter taste of fermented foods.
I also really enjoy eating with people – such an ancient part of so many celebrations. In present circumstances this is limited to my spouse, but we do our best to share a sit down meal each day, and use colourful ceramics we’ve collected or been given. Colours, textures, aromas, tastes, conversation, are all part of the nourishing experience. Here is one of my favourite recipes.
1 bunch Italian/flat leaf parsley, course stems removed & finely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, stems course removed & finely chopped
1 bunch dill, stems course removed & finely chopped
1 bunch chives or green parts of scallions, finely chopped
(to make about 4 cups of chopped herbs. (You can also use some spinach or lettuce)
¾ cup finely chopped walnuts (I use a food processor)
¼ cup barberries (if you can find them – they are small, tart red berries the size of dried currents. Keep them in the freezer and rinse a few times before using. )
6 large eggs, well beaten
2 Tbls extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon rose petals or ½ teaspoon ground (if available)
a pinch cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, adding the eggs last. If you are in a hurry, you could put the stemmed herbs, spices, oil and eggs in a blender to chop and mix simultaneously, then add the walnuts and barberries (if you have them).
Heat a non-stick frying pan, add a enough oil to film the pan and then the egg mixture. Cover and cook on low heat until done. Traditionally, it is turned over to brown the top when cooked through.
Alternately, preheat an oven to 350, pour the mixture into a buttered baking dish, cover loosely with foil, bake for 30 minutes, then uncover till browned on top and cooked through. To make removal easy, use can line the dish with oiled or buttered parchment paper.
Let cool 10 minutes before cutting into pieces. Can be served warm or cool. It is great for a packed lunch.
Dana Luebke, CanBeWell Leadership Team, Public Relations Committee, Dancer, Educator and Brain Gym Canada Founder, Movement Exploration