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.
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 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.
Persian noodle soup
Servings: 6 (to 8)
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)
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.
*You can use pre cooked tinned beans and lentils. Use 1 x 400 gram tin of each.