Thursday, January 29, 2009
When M. and I go to visit his mother, who lives in the remote Sierra Nevadas, we bring food. Lots and lots of food. She has close access to only one grocery store and she gets understandably tired of its offerings. Last time we went to visit she requested something "exotic."
Exotic? We imagined fresh fish, curries, strange shaped veggies and unique flavors.
Suddenly I remembered the soup from the Persian cookbook that M. had been prodding me to make for weeks. The ingredient list was long and daunting. But with a whole Saturday in front of us we could make it -- there were plenty of hands for chopping and not a lot else to do. We made a lengthy list and hit the grocery store buying nearly all the fresh spinach they had and bag after bag of spices and dried beans.
M. spent most of the afternoon making the soup while the girls talked, knit, and drank tea. Then we let the soup sit overnight and made the garnish the next day before eating the soup for a big lunch. It was amazing -- hearty, healthy, a complete meal in a bowl. The flavors, the likes of which I've never had together, were familiar and homey yet entirely new. We all loved it.
Ash-e reshteh is a Persian soup made in honor of the Iranian New Year. It is a soup that does not photograph well. Some might call it homely (the photo above was taken without the colorful final garnish) but when peering into a bowl of it, it is beautiful with its deep rose color, swirls of greens, leggy noodles, and nuggets of beets, beans, and lentils.
Yes, it requires nearly a day to make. But when the weather is inclement and there's nothing to do, it is a day well spent.
1/4 cup dried chickpeas
1/4 cup dried navy beans
1/4 cup dried red kidney beans
3 Tbl. butter
3 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. ground turmeric
10 cups water
1 cup green lentils
4 cups beef broth
1/2 pound linguine, broken in half
1 tbl. flour
1 cup coarsely chopped chives or scallions
1 cup chopped fresh dill
2 cups coarsely chopped fresh parsley
10 cups washed and chopped fresh spinach, or 3 pounds frozen spinach, chopped
1 fresh beet, peeled and diced in 1/2 inch pieces
1&1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tbl. oil
1 onion, peeled and sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
4 Tbl. crushed dried mint
1. Soak chickpeas, navy beans, and kidney beans in 4 cups water for at least two hours. Drain and set aside.
2. In a large heavy pot heat the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and fry for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden brown. Add the salt, pepper, turmeric, kidney beans, navy beans, and chickpeas -- stir fry for 1 minute.
3. Add 10 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover partially and simmer for 45 minutes.
4. Add the lentils and the beef broth, cook 20 minutes longer.
5. Add the noodles and flour and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. Add chopped chives, dill, parsley, spinach, and beet. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes, or until beets are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste, add more water if the soup is too thick.
7. Prepare garnish: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add one peeled and sliced onion and fry for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 6 cloves peeled and crushed garlic and stir fry until golden brown. Remove from heat, add 1 teaspoon ground turmeric and 4 tablespoons crushed, dried mint. Mix well & set aside.
8. Stir sour cream into soup, saving a dollop for garnish, and mix well.
9. Pour soup into bowls and garnish.
Make this soup a day in advance to give the flavors a chance to meld.