Like most women, I love weddings and most of all I love the food, the cake, the sweets and the favours. Of course, I’ll get close to breaking my neck to see the dress first and I do become weepy when the couple exchange their vows; however, it’s always the food that get’s my blood flowing & nothing impresses me more than a wedding menu that’s different to the norm. Interestingly almost every groom I’ve ever known didn’t really like the wedding preparation (in fact, most of them loathe it) and most prospective
grooms would really be very happy if they were simply told what to wear and when to turn up so that they can focus on the really important stuff, like the bachelor’s party, for example. It seems, therefore, that involvement in wedding planning isn’t very high on the male list of priorities; so if I can give you guys some advice, open up a separate short term bank account for whatever it is you have to pay; pay the agreed amount into the account, hand over the card, kiss the money goodbye and keep your nose out of the wedding. When the money’s gone, it’s gone & you can close the account. Simple. Make sure you have your bachelor’s party at least a week before the wedding and turn up early at the appointed hour, looking bright and sparkly. Prepare to wait for you bride because in 90% of the cases, you will wait.
Because weddings are so much fun, I thought I’d have a look at how people around the world celebrate their weddings and find some of their special dishes to share with you. I’ll get the ball rolling with a Persian wedding because I was quite surprised to discover how many of these typical weddings are being celebrated around the world; the weddings are very traditional with the groom’s family footing the bill for it; since the bride’s family pays for the furniture and stuff for the house, it seems only fair; in modern families, however, the costs are pretty much shared. The first recipe is something sweet that you’ll find at almost all Persian weddings:
- 675 g basmati rice, soaked in lightly salted water for about 2 hours
- 3 oranges
- 6 tbsp granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp melted butter
- 6 carrots, cut into fine julienne strips
- 125 g mixed chopped pistachios, almonds and pine nuts
- 6 good quality saffron threads, soaked in 1 tbsp boilin water
- Cut the peel from the oranges in wide strips, using a potato peeler & cut the peel into fine shreds; place these in a small pot of water, cover with a lid and bring to the boil & then simmer for a few minutes; drain well & repeat the process until you’ve removed the bitterness from the peel.
- Put the peel back in the pot with 3 tbsp sugar & 4 tbsp water, bring to the boil & simmer until you have reduced the liquid by half, set aside.
- Heat 1 tbsp butter in a pan & fry the carrots for 2 – 3 minutes; add the rest of the sugar & 4 tbsp water, simmering it for 10 minutes until the carrots are just about cooked, drain & rinse well.
- Heat another 1 tbsp butter in a pan & add 3 tbsp water, fork a little of the rice into the pan & spoon on some of orange mixture; make layers of the rice until the whole mixture has been used.
- Cook this gently for 10 minutes, pour over the remaining butter & cover with a clean dish cloth; put a lid on securely & steam for 30 minutes, then garnish with nuts and drizzle over the saffron water.
Traditionally when a young man was ready for marriage, his family started to look around for a wife; as time progressed they started asking their parents to look around & suggest suitable brides, especially when they couldn’t find any themselves (nowadays this is quite rare because men & women mix normally). Once the bride has been decided upon, the khastegari process will begin:
- Some representatives of the man’s family will arrange to visit the woman’s family so that everyone can get to know one another – it’s not a formal thing & is really just a getting to know one another affair; nobody is going to be doing any proposing and there’s no commitment (it’s quite okay to go for more than one khastegari).
- After this first visit the man & woman can start thinking about whether or not they’re interested in a relationship & both man and woman has a say; this is not a case of one party being forced on the other party.
- If everyone’s so inclined, the second khastegari is arranged and the groom to be and his family make a formal proposal of marriage to the bride to be and her family; upon arrival at the future bride’s home, her family will invite his family to sit in a reception room where her family will spend a good deal of time telling his family about all her virtues and then some; his family will listen and then extoll his virtues and so it will carry on. Actually the most important thing that her family wants to know is whether he can support her financially, provide her with a decent home and what his religious leanings are – basically whether their precious daughter will be well looked after and happy.
- Traditionally, if everyone was happy, the bride’s dad would ask that tea be served; at this point she would offer her future husband tea & cake and it will be the first time they see one another (officially); when the whole affair is over, the two of them would be able to have time alone to speak.
- In modern families, the bride to be and the groom to be usually arrange the ceremony & both khastegaris are done in one step.
- 700 g lamb or mutton, cubed or cut in chunks – a shoulder is good here.
- 2 medium onions diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped
- 3 Persian lemons (.or any large juicy lemon – preferably with a thickish skin
- 425 g canned tomatoes, diced
- 125 ml split peas
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil – something robust
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp advieh
- Extra virgin olive oil to taste
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Warm a Dutch oven on medium flame and once it is warm, add oil; make sure that the oil is well distributed and then add onion and garlic & fry the onion and garlic until translucent and the juices are beginning to be released (Persians call this taft).
- Place the meat in the pot, allowing it to sear and brown for a few moments; as soon as the meat has browned, add the turmeric & stir well and at this point add the Persian lemons, about a litre of water, salt & pepper, cover and cook for 1 hour.
- During this step you are essentially making your own meat broth for this stew.
- Add the tins of tomato, the split peas, tomato paste, and advieh; cook for 1 – 1 ½ to 2 hours (during the cooking process, stir everything regularly_.
- While your stew cooks give it a stir every so often to make sure that the bottom does not stick; check & correct the seasoning as you cook & then serve over rice.
This is a kind of formal announcement & ceremony all rolled into one & it takes place after everyone has agreed to everything and everyone’s happy about the impending marriage; the best thing about it is that bride gets a present from the groom’s family. The ancient Zoroastrian practice was to present the bride with a piece of fabric and a ring in order to persuade her to accept the proposal – the fabric could then be made into a chador.
- The Majless: will take at the takes place at the bride’s parents house & can be held as much a year before the wedding; she will get a Mehriye which is, essentially, a gift of love, and the bride can have it at any time that she wants it.
- The Namzadi: when the bride and groom exchanging rings & have a party afterwards.
- Shirini Khordan: this is the party after the exchanging of the rings and here people have tea and shirini (cakes, pastries, cookies, chocolates etc); it’s important that everybody eat the sweet stuff because it’s a wish for sweetness in the life of the couple.
As if there hadn’t been enough celebrations, Persians have another one, the Khunche (or tabag-baran) when the presents from the groom’s family are carried to the bride’s family; they’re actually physically carried over by the men from his family (dressed up in costumes) in large flat containers that are balanced on their heads.
STUFF TO KNOW ABOUT PERSIAN WEDDINGS
The Aghd: this is when the bride & bridegroom sign their marriage contract; it takes place at the bride’s parents home in a specially decorated room; flowers, sometimes jewels are laid out on a spread (called the Sofreh-ye Aghd) which is placed on the floor & it has to face east, in the direction of the sunrise because it signifies light & when the bride & groom sit at the head of Sofreh-ye Aghd they will be facing The Light.
The Jashn-e Aroosi: this is the reception and traditionally it could last from 3 – 7 days; nowadays this is not the case & it can be celebrated right after the Aghd or up to a year after it. Nowadays, couples opt to have receptions that they can afford with buffets, dinners and loads of dancing (quite similar to a western wedding reception). Entertainment & DJ’s can provide a festive mood and atmosphere for the big celebration – bear in mind that Iranians love dancing! The wedding cake is very traditional and sweetens the union at the end of the night.
The Sofreh-ye Aghd: this the piece of fabric upon which the wedding spread is laid out & it’s usually passed from mother to daughter (or occasionally from mother to son); it’s made from a seriously expensive & luxurious material like termeh (this is the most expensive gold embroidered cashmere), silk or atlas (gold embroidered satin).
THE WEDDING SPREAD
As I understand it, this is also called the Sofreh-ye Aghd & the most important foods on the spread will be:
- The Seven Herbs: poppy seeds, rice, Angelica, salt, nigella seeds, black tea leaves and Frankincense.
- The Seven Pastries: sugar coated almonds, baklava, Persian marzipan, rice cookies, almond cookies & chickpea cookies.
- The Mirror of Fate & two candelabras: to symbolize light & fire (when the bride comes into the room, her veil covers her face & once she sits down next to her man, she removes her veil and the first thing that the bridegroom sees in the mirror should be the reflection of his wife-to-be.
- The Blessed Bread: specially baked bread with writing on it.
- Naan-o Paneer-o Sabzi: Bread, feta cheese & greens are to symbolize the basic food needed to sustain life; guests, you can look forward to be served that after the ceremony.
- Symbols of Fertility: almonds, decorated eggs, hazelnuts & walnuts.
- The Heavenly Fruits: apples, grapes &pomegranates.
- Persian Rose: a cup of rose-water & a rose (to be specific, a rose known as Mohammadan flower – Iran is particularly famous for its exquisite, highly perfumed red roses).
- Shakh-e-Nabat: a bowl made from rock candy.
- Honey: a cup of honey is place on the spread; right after the wedding ceremony, the bride & groom dip their pinky fingers into the honey & offer it to one another.
- Esphand: it’s a kind of rue that, together with some frankincense, is placed on a brazier filled with hot coals; the smoke purifies the air and wards off the evil eye.
- Coins: they put a small bowl of gold or silver coins to symbolize wealth & prosperity.
- The Sacred Text: an Avesta, Qur’an, Bible or Torah is put in front of the couple on the spread; some families also add a poetry book or other inspirational book.
- Prayer Rug: a prayer rug or a traditional Iranian Termeh is put in the middle of the wedding spread; the rug reminds the couple of the importance of prayer (it will also include a rosary & small cube of clay with prayers written on it’ non-Muslim families may or may not omit the prayer kit.
- A shawl made out of silk or any other fine fabric: will be held over the bride & bridegroom’s head by a few unmarried female relatives (they will be the bridesmaids); two sugar cones made out of hardened sugar are used during the ceremony as well & are ground together above the bride and groom’s head by a happily married female relative (and/or maid of honor) throughout the ceremony to shower them in sweetness – luckily the sugar will drop onto the fabric & not their heads.
- Humour: sometimes a few stitches are sewn on the cloth that’s held over the bride & groom’s head – the needle has 7 threads of 7 colours & will symbolize the sewing the mother-in-law’s tongue against saying anything rude or unholy to the bride in her future life.
The contract signing for the wedding is almost always done before the ceremony of Aghd so that it can continue without hiccup; when the groom signs, he’s agrees in law to provide for his bride with a mehriye & the amount is always restated during the signing. When people are religious, the Aghd will include a reading from the Quran or the Bible or the Torah. The grooms is first asked whether he wants to get married & then the bride is asked the same question – usually brides make their grooms wait a bit before the answer & sometimes much hilarity ensues. Once she’s agreed, they’re pronounced husband & wife, they exchange rings, dip their fingers in honey and start dancing.
- 130g walnuts, finely chopped
- 130g pistachio nuts, finely chopped
- 175g butter, melted
- 200g filo pastry
- 250g white caster sugar
- 200ml water
- ½ lemon, juice only
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- Preheat the oven to 180C.
- For the baklava, brush a 25cm x 18cm baking tray with some of the melted butter & trim the pastry to fit the baking tray if necessary; put one of the filo sheets into the tray; brush it with butter & top with another filo sheet before brushing with butter again – repeat the process until you’ve used up half the sheets.
- Mix all the chopped nuts together in a bowl & pour it onto the buttered filo pastry before spreading it out evenly.
- Brush a sheet of filo with butter & then put it, butter side down, onto the layer of nuts; brush another with butter and repeat the process with all the rest of the filo sheets (in other words, brush each sheet with melted butter before layering on top of the other sheets); finally, use a very sharp knife & score the top of the layered stack in a diamond pattern.
- Put into the oven and bake until it’s golden & cooked through – about 20-25 minutes.
- In the mean time, put the water, the caster sugar, the ground ginger & the lemon juice into a pot over a medium heat and bring to the boil; boil until it thickens into a syrup (around 7 minutes).
- As soon as the baklava comes out of the oven, pour the warm syrup over it and set aside to cool.
This is a post wedding celebration; the bride is practically covered in flowers and floral ornaments and her new home is decorated with even more flowers by the groom’s parents. Both her and his parents bring more gifts and everyone enjoys finger foods, sweets and good couple of drinks before they dance away the night and socialize with friends and family.