Soupe Jo

Persian cream of barley soup with shredded chicken

This soup is my medicine. When I am feeling under the weather or need a hug in food form, this is what I cook. Many Iranians are more familiar with our turnip soup for illnesses (Ash-e Shalgham) but for me it will always be our version of the classic concept of chicken soup that I turn to when in need. Creamy, hearty and comforting which is the prerequisite for a medicinal chicken soup – am I right? 

I was introduced to this soup during a visit to a ‘Khaleh’ (Persian name for aunt on your mother’s side – ‘Ammeh’ for your dad’s side), who lived in Bognor Regis, a town and seaside resort in West Sussex, on the south coast of England. I loved visiting her for two main reasons: the first being that she lived beside the seaside (where the brass bands play ‘Tiddely-om-pom-pom!‘); and the second being this soup, which she would cook for me as she knew I loved it. In Farsi ‘Jo’ (pronounced ‘joh’) means barley – we like to keep our dish names simple.

This soup is super easy to cook. Unlike most our recipes, it does not include turmeric or saffron. The ingredients, as you can see below, can be easily sourced from most local supermarkets. If you are not a fan of coriander, then replace with parsley, which is the herb more commonly used in this recipe.

You can convert this into a vegetarian recipe by using vegetable stock and using mushrooms as an alternative to the chicken. I recommend frying the mushrooms in a little butter and garlic and then adding them to the soup for the last 10 mins of simmering and before serving. 

Traditionally this soup is thickened with a bechamel, which I feel is unnecessary and makes the soup too thick and gloopy. With the availability of the handy stick-blender you don’t need to use a bechamel and can thicken the soup by blending a little bit of it. Also cream makes for a luxurious addition to the soup so my variations to the traditional recipe actually results in a velvety and lighter soup. It is such a  hearty soup you don’t need to have bread with it but do feel free to have a buttered crusty roll or whatever you fancy to dip into the soup.


Soupe Jo

Persian cream of barley soup with shredded chicken
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Total Time1 hr 20 mins
Course: Soup, Main Course, lunch
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: chicken soup
Servings: 6
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion or medium leek (finely diced)
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 2 celery sticks (finely diced)
  • 1 large carrot (or 2 medium carrots grated)
  • 200 g pearl barley (washed and then soaked in cold water for a minimum of 1 hr)
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 1.8 litres chicken stock
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsp single cream
  • Small bunch of fresh coriander (finely chopped)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

Instructions

  • Take a large stock pot or saucepan and place on a medium / high heat. Add the olive oil and follow with the onion and cook until it turns golden.
  • Add garlic, the celery and 1/2 the grated carrot to the pan and stir. Cook for 5 mins, stirring occasionally to ensure it doesn't stick to the pan.
  • Drain the pearl barley and add to the pan with the bay leaves and the stock. Bring to the boil and then lower the heat to allow the soup to simmer.
  • Add the chicken breast to the soup and place a lid on the pan. Poach for approximately 15 mins, or until the juices run clear in the thickest part of the breast. Remove the chicken breasts from the soup and set aside to cool. Once cooled, shred the chicken and put to one side.
  • Add the juice of a lemon to the soup and leave to simmer for a further 30 mins or until the pearl barley has cooked with the lid of the pan partially off. Check and stir the soup on occasion.
  • Take a stick-blender and blend a little of the soup on one side of the pan to thicken. Then add the cream, the shredded chicken breast, the remaining grated carrot, the chopped fresh coriander and season to taste. Simmer the soup for a few minutes to ensure the shredded chicken is warmed through.
  • Ladle into bowls and drizzle with a little more cream, chopped fresh coriander and olive oil to serve.

Ash Reshteh

Persian noodle soup with herbs & beans

Although we have translated this dish to be described as a soup, Persian ash (pronounced ‘aash’) recipes tend to be a hearty bowl of goodness and are more of a main meal unless eaten in small portions, as many Persians do when offered as a precursor to the main event.

Ash Reshteh is no exception to the rule. A wholesome bowl packed full of Persian noodles (‘reshteh’), kidney beans, chickpeas, green lentils, cooked with fresh herbs and greens and flavoured with kashk (a fermented / preserved food made with the whey left over from cheese-making). The texture of this ash is less soup and more like a chilli and it is not a soup that we eat bread with.

My version of this recipe differs to my maman’s recipe – I don’t use flour to thicken my ash and also I use slightly more herbs than her. The resulting ash feels fresher and lighter than the traditional recipe / method. If you cannot get your hands on Persian noodles, the closest alternative are udon noodles. You can also use spaghetti or linguine. If you are vegan, leave the kashk out and add some freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice to taste. You can also use a dairy-free yoghurt  in addition to the fresh citrus. 

This dish is served during the winter time and at special Iranian events like Chaharshanbeh Soori (the eve of the last Wednesday before Norooz – Persian New Year); and Sizdah Bedar (a festival held marking the end of the Norooz holidays in Iran). The noodles in the ash are supposed to symbolize good fortune for the new year. My next post will cover more details about Norooz and the dish Sabzi Polo ba Mahi (rice layered with herbs and served with fish) which we Persians eat on the day. This post focusses on Chaharshanbeh Soori and Sizdah Bedar, when my family come together to celebrate and eat Ash Reshteh.

Chaharshanbeh Soori

The first event in our Norooz festivities takes place on the evening of the last Tuesday before Persian New Year. It is a Festival of Fire. People in all parts of Iran and those of us who live outside of Iran celebrate this festival by setting up bonfires in almost all the public places in Iran – in our gardens or at organised events for the diaspora community.

We eat Ash Reshteh and other Persian delights cooked by our host and jump over the bonfires. The tradition of jumping over the bonfire originates from people believing that the fire would take their problems, sickness and winter pallor and be replaced by energy and warmth, contributing towards their success for the upcoming year. Therefore, jumping over fire on Chaharshanbeh Soori night is like a purification rite or a phrase familiar to the West  ‘out with old, in with the new.’

As we jump, we chant the following words: ‘Zardiye man az toh (my pallor to you); Sorkhiye toh az man (your redness to me).’

Another tradition is to bang on pots and pans with spoons that are named as ‘Ghashogh Zani,’ with the objective of beating out the last Wednesday of the year.

It is a celebration of good health and light – the end of winter and the beginning of Spring. It is believed that the ritual guarantees the dissipation of the misfortunes and evils and the materialization of hopes and desires for the next year.

Sizdah Bedar

Sizdah Bedar is considered the final day of the Persian new year celebration. It is celebrated on the thirteenth day of Norooz. The festival’s name translated means ‘getting rid of the thirteenth.’ As with many cultures, the number 13 was considered bad luck by Iranians and so they believed that by being outside with nature the bad luck would dissipate. Therefore, on Sizdah Bedar, Iranians spend the day outdoors. Many will go out for a family picnic in a local park where one family member will be entrusted with bringing a pot of Ash Reshteh and the rest of us the sandwiches and other Persian treats!

Come rain or shine we will gather outdoors and celebrate this day – throwing our sabzeh (sprouted lentils or wheat and one of the symbols of Norooz representing rejuvenation and new life) into a nearby river or stream. Other than eating, another ritual for the day is knotting greens. Usually, the young unmarried people knot the green of the sabzeh to find their soulmate prior to throwing it into the water.


Ash Reshteh

Persian noodle soup
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time2 hrs 30 mins
Total Time2 hrs 50 mins
Course: Soup, Main Course
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: spinach, coriander, parsley, dill, ashe reshteh, legumes
Servings: 6 (to 8)
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the ash

  • 125 g chickpeas (soaked overnight in a bowl with the other beans and lentils plus tsp of salt)*
  • 125 g red kidney beans (soaked overnight in a bowl with the other beans and lentils plus tsp of salt)*
  • 125 g green lentils (soaked overnight in a bowl with the other beans and lentils plus tsp of salt)*
  • 1 large bunch fresh coriander (between 100 and 150 g)
  • 1 large bunch fresh parsley (between 100 and 150 g)
  • 1 large bunch fresh dill (between 100 and 150 g)
  • 1 bunch spring onions (green ends only)
  • 200 g fresh spinach
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion (finely diced)
  • 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 litres vegetable stock (you can use water which is traditionally used but I like the extra depth of flavour stock brings to the dish)
  • 150 g Persian noodles - reshteh (you can use udon noodles, spaghetti or linguine as an alternative)
  • 3 tbsp kashk (mine are heaped tablespoons - add 1 tbsp at a time and mix and taste each time to see what amount suits your tastes)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

For the garnish

  • 100 ml vegetable oil
  • 1 to 2 large onions (finely sliced)
  • 2 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tbsp kashk (diluted with some water to make it runny for drizzling on the ash)

Instructions

For the Ash

  • Soak your beans, lentils and chickpeas in a bowl of salted water overnight. The morning after, cook the beans and lentils in water by bringing to the boil and then simmering for 30 mins (this aids with making them digestible). Drain and leave to one side until you are ready to cook the Ash Reshteh.
  • Wash all the herbs, spinach and spring onions. Remove all the tough woody stems from the herbs and spinach. Cut the spring onions to remove the green ends for the Ash.
  • In batches, pulse the herbs, spinach and spring onion ends in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Place the greens in a bowl until you are ready to add to the Ash.
  • Take a large stockpot or equivalent and place on a medium / high heat. Add 3 tbsp of vegetable oil. After a minute or so add the finely diced onion and fry until it is tender and turning golden brown.
  • Add the garlic and turmeric and stir until evenly distributed and you can smell the aroma.
  • Drain the bean and lentil mixture and add to the stockpot. Cook for about a minute, stirring gently to coat with the onions, oil and spice.
  • Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to allow the beans to simmer. Place the lid on the pot and cook for approximately 30 mins to 1 hr. Skim off any foam which may rise to the top and stir now and again. To check if the bean mixture is cooked test a chickpea, as they take the longest to cook. The chickpea should be tender with no grainy or chalky texture to it.
  • Once the bean mixture is cooked, add the chopped greens and allow the Ash to simmer for about 30 mins for the greens to wilt. If the Ash is too thick after the greens have wilted, add some water. The texture of the Ash should be thicker than soup like a chilli but not so thick it feels like there is no liquid in it.
  • Then add the noodles - you can snap these to the length you desire. I like mine fairly long so I snap mine in half, if at all. Allow the Ash to cook with the noodles for about 20 to 30 mins. Test a noodle to see if cooked to you preferred texture - we tend to have ours very soft.
  • Then add the kashk 1 spoonful at a time and mix it fully into the Ash. Taste as you go along. Some put less kashk into their Ash and add more to their liking by way of a garnish.
  • As kashk is salty, add any extra salt to your taste and a generous amount of pepper. Then give the Ash a gentle stir and simmer on a low heat until it is evenly heated through.

For the Garnish

  • You can prepare the mint oil and fried onions in advance of / or during the cooking of the Ash.
  • For the mint oil - place a frying pan on a low heat and add 2 tbsp of oil and 2 tsp of dried mint and let the mixture heat through for only 1 minute. Then pour it out into a bowl and set aside for when you are ready to garnish the Ash.
  • For the fried onions - wipe the frying pan used to make the mint oil and place it on a medium heat. Add the remaining oil and let it heat through for about 1 minute. Then add the finely sliced onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring regularly until it turns golden brown and caramelized - about 20 mins. Place the onions on a paper towel to absorb the oil and set aside for when you are ready to garnish the Ash.
  • When you are ready to serve, ladle into bowls, drizzle with some of the diluted kashk, the mint oil and a sprinkling of onions.

Notes

*You can use pre cooked tinned beans and lentils. Use 1 x 400 gram tin of each.

Eshkeneh

Persian Onion & Egg Drop Soup

Eshkeneh originates from the Khorasan region of Iran – the east side. My mother and her family are from Mashhad, which is sometimes referred to as the ‘capital of Khorasan’, so this soup was a regular feature in her childhood. There are many variations of the recipe for Eshkeneh. If you have tried it before, you may be more familiar with the version that results in a golden soup with flecks of green from the fenugreek leaves. One of the many variations is Eshkeneh made with the addition of tomatoes and this is the recipe I have shared below. 

This soup reminds me of my Aunty on my mother’s side. She was a lovely, glamorous yet incredibly earthy and sassy woman. Before all these young women knew how to pose in photos to emphasise and de-emphasise certain parts of their body on social media, my Aunty was trailblazing in the 80’s with the hands on the hip pose for all Kodak moments.

She and her family lived with us on and off in my childhood and she was often the first face I would see in the morning, smiling and incredibly loving. She used to sing songs to me to emphasise how much she cared about me, changing the words in Persian pop songs to feature my name. A powerhouse of a personality whose loss we felt deeply and still do.

We have a legacy and a future of strong women in my family with many generations of women pursuing careers whilst navigating the challenges of motherhood. And my aunt was one of these women. It was my aunt and my mother who taught me that women can be anything and everything and that there are no external limitations just our own minds. Our family is matriarchal to it’s core and to no surprise I see this strength and determination in my own daughter.

I remember the first time she introduced me to this soup.  She had to convince the 8 year old me to give it a go. I was won over by the first spoonful. The combination of the tomatoes, fenugreek, onion, potatoes and egg were dreamy. It is a real winter warmer and an easy soup to knock up for a quick lunch or light dinner. As with all Persian food, leaving it a day allows for the flavours to intensify so don’t poach the eggs in the soup until you are ready to tuck into a bowl of it. Traditionally the eggs are cooked until the egg yolks are hard, but I like my eggs gooey so I cook them for about 2 minutes in the simmering soup.


Eshkeneh

Persian onion and egg-drop soup
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time40 mins
Total Time50 mins
Course: Soup
Cuisine: Persian, Iranian
Keyword: tomatoes, vegetarian, eggs, fenugreek
Servings: 2
Author: Mersedeh Prewer

Ingredients

For the Soup

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil / butter / ghee
  • 1 large onion (finely diced)
  • 1 clove garlic (crushed)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves (crush a little if the leaves are large)
  • 1 large potato (finely diced - 1 cm cubes)
  • 1 medium tomato (chopped)
  • 600 mls water
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • A squeeze or two of fresh lemon juice
  • 2 large free range eggs

For the Chive Oil Garnish

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • A handful of fresh chives
  • A squeeze of lemon juice

Instructions

  • Take a medium size saucepan and place on a medium / high heat. Add the oil and then add the onion. Stir and cook the onion until translucent and starting to turn golden in colour. 
  • Add the garlic and stir.
  • Add the turmeric and stir into the mixture.
  • Add the tomato puree and stir until evenly distributed. Then add the dried fenugreek leaves and stir into the mixture.
  • Add the diced potato and stir gently for a few minutes, making sure the potatoes do not stick to the pan.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes and stir. Then add the water. Once the soup starts to bubble lower the heat to low and let it simmer for 20 minutes minimum. Check in now and again to stir occasionally.
  • Season according to taste.
  • Place the olive oil, finely chopped fresh chives and lemon juice in a bowl and mix and put to one side to garnish the soup when ready to serve.
  • Prior to serving, and when the soup is simmering, crack the eggs into the soup as far away as possible from each other so they don't merge. Poach 2 mins for soft; 4 mins for medium; and above 5 mins for hard. Turn off the heat and serve in bowls with the lemon and chive oil drizzled on top and flatbread to dip.