I am a huge fan of Persian Cuisine, one of the oldest and greatest cuisines in the world, complete with a rich history and culture. When one thinks of Persian food though, it’s usually the Morasa Polow or Chelow that come to mind, but, in honour of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, I am going to share with you the first of two Persian cookies today. Let’s learn how to make Naan-e Gerdooi or Persian Walnut Cookies, super easy and gluten free!
Nowruz or Norooz, pronounced no-rooz, is a combination of two Persian words, “now” for new and “ruz” for day and is the festival that heralds the spiritual new year for Persian and some Central Asian communities, celebrating the start of spring and all that it entails: renewal, rebirth and new beginnings. Nowruz, which falls on the first day of spring (21st March this year) is a secular holiday, observed across the faiths and goes back some three thousand years with practices that are partly rooted in the rituals and traditions of Zoroastrianism, the religion of ancient Persia before the advent of Islam in 7th century A.D.
The New Year is celebrated with friends and family; at the exact moment of the vernal equinox, wishes of Sal-e No Mobarak (Happy New Year) are exchanged, then sweet treats are distributed by the oldest in the family, with the children receiving gifts or money. The immediate days that follow are spent visiting friends and family, a practice very similar to Eid.
A big part of the Nowruz celebrations is the setting of the Haft-Seen table, a table bedecked with symbolic items representing spring, new beginnings, hope and a lot more. You can read more about the Haft-Seen Table on the Persian Rice Cookies (Naan-e Berenji) post.
We’ve been celebrating Nowruz with our Persian friends here in the UK for a number of years now, which is a blessing as my side of the family tree lives nowhere near me! Most of the traditional cookies I bake, I learnt as a child, in my granny’s kitchen, so an added advantage to celebrating with my Middle Eastern friends over the years has been the expansion of my Middle Eastern culinary knowledge bank and repertoire!
So, today’s recipe. Persian sweet biscuit/cookie type treats can be loosely classified into dry cookies (shirini khoshk) and moist cookies (shirini tar). Today’s cookies, naan-e gerdooi, belong firmly in the first camp, they’re made with ground walnuts and when baked, are dry on the outside and just bordering on the chewy inside.
This very quick and easy recipe was given to me by a friend of mine called Farah. In proportions used, I have followed her recipe to the letter; my contribution to it is the alternate flavourings used, which I’m happy to say is a hit at every Persian gathering we take them to. Instead of the traditional vanilla, I sometimes also use a combination of crushed rose petals and cardamom seeds. The first time you make this, go with the vanila or divide the mix into two and flavour separately; I wouldn’t recommend going with all three flavourings, as that’s a bit of an overkill.
It’s a very wet dough and you can either form the shapes with two tablespoons or place the whole lot into piping bags and pipe them out like macarons.
- 200g walnuts
- 4 egg yolks
- 100g icing sugar (powdered sugar)
- 1 tsp vanilla paste/extract
- 1 tsp dried edible roses, pounded/ground
- seeds of 3 cardamoms, pounded/ground
- Preheat oven to 150˚C/300˚F.
- Place the walnuts in a chopper and pulse to a coarse grind, like that of coarse semolina or polenta. Stop before the "sticky" oily stage. Set aside.
- Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until well mixed and pale and creamy.
- Add the vanilla and mix in. If using the rose petals and cardamom, add with walnuts.
- Add the walnuts, followed by rose petals and cardamom if using, and mix it all in with a wooden spoon.
- Either drop spoonfuls of the cookie mix onto a baking sheet or transfer the whole lot into a piping bag and pipe out little rounds.
- Place a small piece of walnut on each cookie and bake for 20 minutes until just lightly browned. Make sure you leave at least an inch between each cookie as they will spread.
Even a non stick baking sheet can do with being lined, as then you just need to peel the paper off the cookie, an easier job than trying to remove stubborn cookies.