This Syrupy Sweet Salad To Celebrate The New Year Is A Little Taste Of Home

For millions of people who live abroad and celebrate Nowruz, preparing Haft Mewa and other festive dishes bridge the distance between home and exile.
This Syrupy Sweet Salad To Celebrate The New Year Is A Little Taste Of Home

(Photo: Zuhal Ahad)

Every spring while I was growing up, my mom would assign my three siblings and me the task of peeling the skins off soaked walnuts, pistachios and almonds to prepare Haft Mewa—a cherished dessert that translates to “seven fruits.” It’s a celebratory dish for Nowruz in Afghanistan. Walnuts were always the trickiest to peel as their fragile skins demand very delicate handling. As long as I remember, I’d find ways to avoid this task, leveraging my older sister status to convince my siblings to take on the task for me. 

Nowruz is an ancient celebration that originated from Zoroastrian tradition and translates to “new day” in Persian. Nowruz, which has been celebrated for more than 3,000 years, is a popular holiday that falls on the first day of the first month of the Solar Hijri year. It’s celebrated in Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and other countries across the Middle East and Central Asia. 

Not only does Nowruz mark the onset of spring, but it’s also a great time to visit loved ones and enjoy delicious foods with them. In Afghanistan, the festivities include prayers, music, dance and a grand festive feast featuring Nowruz dishes such as Sabzi Chalaw (plain white rice and spinach stew), fried fish and Samanak (a sweet halwa made from germinated wheat and wheat flour, which takes more than 24 hours to make). But Haft Mewa remains the centrepiece. Fruits for the salad are soaked for at least 24 hours until they plump and the water changes colour, becoming sweet and syrupy and symbolizing abundance, prosperity and the promise of renewal. 

On the morning of Nowruz, my family would wake up early and put on new clothes, then my mom, Shukria, would greet us with a special breakfast and bowls of Haft Mewa, symbolizing a wish for a year filled with a blessing: “May your year be as rich and sweet as this Haft Mewa.” Then we would set off to visit our grandparents, their home bustling with guests including relatives and friends from other parts of the city who had come to watch the celebration of Nowruz at the nearby Sakhi Shrine. The celebration commenced with ceremonial raising of the Jahenda Bala at Kabul’s famous blue mosque, marking the heart of Nowruz festivities in the city. 

Afghan revellers raise the holy mace at the Sakhi shrine, which is the centre of the Afghanistan new year celebrations during the Nowruz festivities in Kabul, Afghanistan.(Photo: Getty Images)

Having lived away from my homeland for the past three years, I have not missed a single opportunity to take on the hard task of peeling nuts to celebrate Nowruz or to make Haft Mewa—or any other holiday dish, for that matter. In July 2021, shortly before Afghanistan fell into the hands of the Taliban, I had to leave my country of birth, where I spent my whole life and loved so dearly. Making traditional dishes—even the hard parts of doing so—is a way to stay connected to my roots and to foster a feeling of belonging. And for my daughter, who is too little to understand the political changes happening in our homeland, it’s a precious opportunity to pass down a piece of our culture and heritage. 

In the past, harsh winters that continued even during Hamal—the first month of the solar year—made most fresh fruits (including apples, apricots, cherries and watermelon) scarce in Afghanistan. As a result, dried fruits were essential. Soaking the dried fruit for Haft Mewa is one of the most special rituals of Nowruz, along with deep cleaning the house, buying new clothes and the preparation of feasts. Making Haft Mewa is not just a culinary delight, but a ritualistic expression of hope, resilience and an unwavering belief in fresh beginnings. The dish holds a special place on the Nowruz table as well as in my heart. 


As I prepare for my third Nowruz in exile, I am acutely aware of the challenges my homeland, especially the hardships women and girls face under the rule of Taliban. While the extremist group does not support the celebration of Nowruz, it was celebrated in Kabul this year without the presence of women and under strict security measures. For the diaspora forcibly scattered around the globe post 2021, Nowruz is more than a tradition. It’s a collective opportunity to unite, reflect on the events following the Taliban’s takeover and to hold onto hope for the triumph of light over darkness.

Our Haft Mewa Recipe

A bowl full of Haft Mewa; a dried fruit salad that has been soaked for a night, with a small bowl served with haft mewa besides it. seven types of dried fruit is also displayed on wood besides them.(Photo: Zuhal Ahad)

This salad symbolizes the vibrancy and freshness heralded by the new year, triumphing over the winter’s dryness. Get the recipe for Haft Mewa.


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