Sometimes, the simplest of dishes can have the most symbolic and deepest of meanings.
That certainly is the case for haft mewa. A recipe that requires very little still plays such a large role in the Afghan celebration of Nawroz.
And even despite its simplicity, haft mewa still carries a very intriguing and complex taste.
About Haft Mewa and Nawroz
In case you read our earlier post on the Iranian Nowruz and sabzi polo, you’ll notice that the spellings of the same holiday is slightly different between the countries.
The reason is because both countries speak different dialects of the Persian language. Iranians speak Farsi, while the Afghans speak Dari. The relationship between the languages is similar to that between British English and American English, although some of the differences are a bit more pronounced.
While both Farsi and Dari are Persian derivatives, the two have interesting idiosyncratic differences between them, especially when it comes to vocabulary, spelling and overall phonology. Dari, in general, has preserved sounds from old Persian – a long “o” and long “e” – whereas Farsi has adapted more colloquialisms and relaxed sounds. The long “o” and long “e” in Farsi, for example, have since merged with the “i” and “u” sounds, respectively.
Hence, for the Afghans, the lingua franca of Dari yields a different spelling and pronunciation of Nawroz from the Iranians.
On top of that, the Afghan traditions are very different as well.
Haft Mewa vs. Haft Seen
Much of the celebrations for Nawroz/Nowruz are, for the most part, very similar to one another across celebrating countries. The overall Nawroz festivities will last ~2 weeks, including very commonly a “preparation” ceremony beforehand called chaharshanbe suri, where people will spiritually cleanse themselves by jumping over fire before heading into the New Year.
For all shades of Nawroz, the philosophy and the significance of the number seven is very similar. Every year, observers will prepare an offering (most generally food-based) as an homage to the seven immortals who created and protected our world and the current cycle of life. One of the intriguing differences across the celebrating cultures, however, lies in how this offering is prepared.
In Iran and for Nowruz, it is common to have a haft sin table, which translates into English as the “seven s’s.” The table will usually have different symbolic ingredients – all of which begin with the letter “s” in Persian – on it, such as: sabzeh (wheat/barley), samanu (sweet pudding), senjed (dried fruit… more to come on this one later), sir (garlic), sib (apple), somaq (spice made from dried fruits) and serkeh (vinegar).
In the Afghan observance, however, there is no such haft sin table. Instead, the homage to the seven immortals lies at the heart of haft mewa. Translated into English, haft mewa means “seven fruits,” which are combined together into one serving.
Alongside haft mewa, another very seminal dish to Nawroz celebration is samanak, a sweetened paste made from sprouted wheat germ. The process for making samanak is extremely long and intensive, often requiring several weeks to prepare, and it is a special process reserved for primarily women to perform.
The reason we bring this up is that, because of the large role of women in this samanak preparation and other parts of Nawroz, the Taliban had actually tried to ban Nawroz altogether throughout Afghanistan. That time has, thankfully, since passed.
About the Recipe
Coming back to haft mewa, there’s not all too much to this recipe to be perfectly candid. The underlying principle for the dish is to combine dried fruits and nuts into a bowl together, add water and let the flavors meld and a syrup form.
Commonly used ingredients for haft mewa are raisins, pistachios, hazelnuts, dried apricots, walnuts, almonds and senjed. Other ingredients that might be used could include dried prunes or plums, especially in place of dried apricots or senjed.
Senjed, sometimes called “bing cherry” in English, is the dried fruit from the oleaster tree, a small deciduous tree that grows around Eurasia and the Mediterranean basin. The fruits from this tree are also referred to as “Russian olives,” although they’re more sweet and mealy-textured instead of the sour and briny taste of regular olives.
The actual preparation of haft mewa itself takes only but a few minutes. You’ll first want to start with peeling the nuts – walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios and almonds – if they haven’t come pre-peeled. In order to make it slightly easier to peel, blanching and then soaking the nuts for at least 30 minutes ahead of time is useful. What’s even more useful and far easier, though, is to find pre-peeled nuts, which will save you a whole lot of work and trouble… especially when it comes to peeling the walnuts.
Once you have peeled nuts and your dried fruits ready, you place them all into a bowl and submerge in water. A common superstition here is to say a little prayer wishing for good luck as you prepare the haft mewa, but you can leave this part out if you’d like.
Next, you’ll want to submerge the your dried fruits and nuts into a liquid, most commonly water, and place in the fridge for at least several hours. The longer the flavors of your haft mewa can combine and work together to form a more syrupy texture, the better. Generally, most recipes we’ve seen for haft mewa suggest leaving the mixture to combine in the fridge together overnight, but if you’re in a crunch for time, a few hours will more than suffice.
Our Take on the Recipe
With such few ingredients and simple preparation, there wasn’t much that needed to be done to our original reference recipe of haft mewa. We did, however, make a few small adjustments.
First and perhaps most importantly, is that we opted to use as many pre-peeled nuts for our haft mewa as we could. It really does make a huge difference in the ease of preparing this dish. Unfortunately, we didn’t come across very well-peeled walnuts, so we ended up peeling whole walnuts ourselves.
In place of hazelnuts, we actually opted for a “nut to fruit” switch. Several other recipes had suggested adding either yellowish raisins or black raisins, and we instead opted to add both. In order to keep good with the haft philosophy, we omitted the hazelnuts in that case to keep the ingredient count to seven.
Finally, in order to add another element of flavor to the forming syrup, we added small dashes of rosewater and vanilla extract into our haft mewa. Depending on who you ask, this might be a bit too much tinkering with the natural flavors of haft mewa, but we personally found the adjustments to be very enjoyable.
All in all, haft mewa is a delicious, incredibly simple and still very refreshing mixture of both sweet and crunchy tastes. Even when not celebrating Nawroz, it makes for a delightful dessert or snack. Enjoy!
What do you include in your haft mewa? Comment below!
- 1 cup black raisins
- 1 cup yellow or green raisins
- 1 cup dried senjet, or bing cherry
- 1 cup almonds (pre-peeled is ideal)
- 1 cup pistachios (pre-peeled is ideal)
- 1 cup walnut halves (pre-peeled is definitely ideal)
- 1 cup dried apricots
- ½ teaspoon rose water (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
- 4 cups water
- Bring a stockpot of water to a boil. For every cup of nuts, have at least 2-3 cups of water to oil
- Once boiling, take the stockpot off the heat and add your nuts
- Let the nuts sit in the water as the water cools, which should be 25-30 minutes or so
- When you feel the water is lukewarm, drain and remove the nuts
- Using your hands or any other types of tools, gently peel the skin off of your nuts. Smoother nuts like almonds and pistachios will be easier to do, whereas you might have to break walnuts into smaller pieces to peel the skin in between the grooves of the nut
- In a large serving bowl, add your walnuts, pistachios, almonds, dried apricots, senjet and raisins all together
- Cover with enough water to come to a level about 1-2 inches above the fruits and nuts. Make sure most nuts and fruits are submerged
- Add your rose water and vanilla extract to the water and stir through
- Place the bowl in the fridge for at least several hours but preferably overnight. The flavors will mix together very nicely