Food & Tradition: The New York Times’ recipe for “Shab-e Yalda”-a Persian celebration



December 21st is the longest night of the year and the first day of winter. We call up this evening, in Persian ” Shab-e Yalda “. Yalda means “birth” and honors Mithra, divinity of Mithraism (pre zoroastrianism) associated with the sun.

Iranian celebrate Yalda since thousand years: the tradition consists in meeting around a table, and a tablecloth, “Sofreh“, on whom are arranged candles, and fruits with a red color heart as pomegranate and watermelon. The red symbolizing the fire and the sun is an iconic color in Zoroastrianism. Watermelons, symbols of health and well being are kept since summer specially for Shab-e Yalda. The pomegranate is also important on the table and its grains symbolize the cycle of life. Iranians also arrange a mixture of 7 ingredients (“Ajil”): a composition of dates, pistachio, nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, grapes and diverse dry berries. These mixtures symbolize the prosperity and are considered as an offering in the resolution of a problem. We say in persian “ajil-e moshkel gosha ” meaning ” the ajil ” which solves the problems. Throughout this evening, Iranians read Divân from Hafez the most famous XIVth century Persian poet.

This evening is an ode in the enjoyment, the gathering and in  happiness. Poetry, laughter and philosophy are the components of Yalda, representing the perfect balance between spirituality and food delights.



Sofreh Yalda – DR


One of the traditional meal of Yalda is “Fesenjan”. Our food contributor, Azita Houshiar cooked it specially for The New York Times. Discover the recipe here:


Photo by Hannah Whitaker for The New York Times


Photo by Hannah Whitaker for The New York Times

Happy Yalda to all iranians!