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Samanu is a pudding-like dish made from sprouted wheat and wheat flour which is sometimes flavored with sugar and nuts. The dish originated in Iran, where it is a customary feature of the annual New Year’s celebration known as Nowruz. Preparing samanu in the traditional fashion requires several days of preparation, and Iranian custom dictates that it can only be made by women, although the rigidness of this rule has been relaxed in modern times.
Traditional samanu consists of two primary ingredients: wheat flour and sprouted wheat. This sprouted wheat is ground into a paste and then mixed with wheat flour and, in some cases, water. Some cooks opt to add additional ingredients such as sugar or ground pistachios to give the dish flavor. The mixture is cooked in a large pot until it reaches a thick, pudding-like consistency.
Generally, samanu is not regarded as an everyday dish, but instead is prepared during the Iranian New Year’s celebration known as Nowruz, which spreads over several days in March each year. In a centuries-old custom of Nowruz called Haft Sin, a table in one’s home is set with seven items which begin in the Iranian alphabet with the letter S. Each of these items, which include foods like garlic, vinegar, and apples, are intended to symbolize a virtue, such as love, health, re-growth, and so forth. Samanu is among these seven traditional Haft Sin items, and it is viewed as a symbol of wealth and prosperity.
Preparing samanu in the traditional fashion requires several days of preparation, as the wheat used in the dish must be soaked until it begins to produce sprouts. Customarily, only women were allowed to prepare the pudding, and often groups of women would gather for a samanu-making party which began at night and lasted into the early hours of the morning. In the modern era, entire families sometimes participate in the preparation of the dish. Over time, the preparation of samanu has also been absorbed into the New Year’s celebrations of other Middle Eastern nations, such as Afghanistan and Tajikistan.