What is Nowruz? Persian New Year traditions and food explained

For Persian New Year, one of the items people place on their Haft-seen, or altar, is wheatgrass.

(CNN)Just as spring is a time for rebirth, the Persian New Year is a time to celebrate new life. Nowruz is celebrated on the spring equinox, which is Saturday, March 20.

This celebration of spring is filled with symbolism around rebirth and renewal, because spring is a time when life is coming back after a long, cold winter, said Yasmin Khan, the London-based human rights campaigner turned author of "The Saffron Tales: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen" and "Zaitoun: Recipes and Stories from the Palestinian Kitchen." These two cookbooks from Khan inspire and provide a window into the cultures and stories of people from the Middle East through food.
Khan's latest work, "Ripe Figs: Recipes and Stories from the Eastern Mediterranean," will be published on May 4.
    The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
      CNN: What are some of Persian New Year's traditions and rituals?
      Yasmin Khan: On the last Tuesday before the New Year, there is a tradition to make small bonfires in your garden. Traditionally people jump over the bonfires, and it's supposed to be a symbol of purification, challenges of the year gone by, and energetically cleansing you and preparing you for the year ahead.
      A key tradition is to set up an altar in your house called a Haft-seen, which means seven S's in Farsi. You place seven things on your altar that begin with the letter S in Farsi, which are symbols or qualities you'd like to invite in for the year ahead. You can have apples for good health, candles for light, eggs for fertility, wheatgrass for rebirth and renewal, vinegar for wisdom, and a gold coin for abundance and prosperity. Each person chooses items that have meaning for them.
      The festival lasts two weeks. At the end of the festival, you take the wheatgrass you've been growing on your altar and you take it down to some running water somewhere. You tie knots in the wheatgrass then throw it into the running water. It would float off along with all your hopes and dreams for the year ahead.
      CNN: What food is important for the holiday?
      Khan: Like all cultural celebrations, food is a really integral part. Because it's a festival celebrating spring, we eat lots of green and fresh herbs. For example, there's this dish called Kuku Sabzi (see recipe below), which is a gorgeous herb and spinach frittata that we always eat on the first day of the year in our house. The frittata is fragrant and aromatic and is served with flatbreads, sliced tomatoes and pickles.
      The first meal of the Persian New Year is always fish served with herb-flecked rice filled with dill, parsley and chives in it. The two-week festival is a time of celebration with people you know. Not in these pandemic times, but traditionally you go to people's houses and eat lots of delicious sweets and pastries.
      CNN: What are some easy ways people can join in the celebrations?
      Khan: Cooking is probably the easiest and most fun way to celebrate the new year. I really recommend that people give some Persian recipes a go. As well as being delicious, they're healthy and vibrant with all the herbs that are packed in them.
      In the weeks before the new year, we do a big deep spring cleaning called "shaking down the house" in Farsi. We've all been stuck at home, and it's definitely got quite dusty around the corners of where I live. It's really lovely to have a focus and have something that is about bringing in new life, renewal and rebirth during this difficult time.
      And no one regrets a spring clean, so I think that's also a really great idea. I think this is a beautiful kind of nonreligious festival that everyone can join into and that we can all relate to. It's a time where we really try and let go of any difficulties that we've had in the past year and try to start the new year with a clean slate.

      Recipes for the Persian New Year

      Kuku Sabzi - Persian Mixed Herb Frittata

      Fresh herbs take center stage in this frittata in celebration of spring.
      This Iranian frittata is a sensational deep green color and tastes like spring on a plate, bursting with fresh herby flavor. It is incredibly quick to throw together, will keep for a few days in the fridge, and can be enjoyed hot or cold.
      Serve as an appetizer or as part of a mezze spread, wrapped up in a flatbread with some slices of tomato and a few salty and sour fermented cucumber pickles, or add some crumbled feta and lightly toasted walnuts for a more substantial main.
      Makes 4 servings as a main or 8 servings as a starter
      Prep time: 15 minutes | Total time: 35 minutes
      Ingredients
      7 ounces|200 grams spinach
      1 3/4 ounces|50 grams fresh parsley
      1 3/4 ounces|50 grams fresh dill
      2 2/3 ounces|75 grams fresh cilantro
      5 medium eggs
      1/2 teaspoon turmeric
      2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
      1 teaspoon sea salt
      1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
      1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaf
      2 teaspoons sunflower oil
      2 garlic cloves, crushed
      Instructions
      1. Wash spinach, parsley, dill and cilantro, then dry well on paper towels or in a salad spinner. Squeeze out as much moisture as possible; if the greens are wet when they are cooked, they will make the kuku go spongy. Chop finely or blitz in a food processor, in a couple of batches.
      2. Heat broiler to high. Crack eggs into a large mixing bowl. Add turmeric, flour, salt, pepper and fenugreek leaf. Stir in the chopped spinach and herbs.
      3. Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet. Add garlic and gently fry over low heat to soften, about 2 minutes.
      4. Make sure garlic is evenly distributed around the skillet, then pour in the egg mixture. Cook over low heat until kuku is almost cooked through, 5-8 minutes. Finish off in hot broiler.
      5. Let kuku cool slightly, then cut into triangular slices to serve.
      AUTHOR NOTE: This recipe is adapted from Yasmin Khan's book "The Saffron Tales: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen."

      Sabzi Polo Baa Mahi - Mixed Herb Rice With Baked Salmon

      This is typically the first meal served during Nowruz, according to cookbook author Yasmin Khan.