Most everyone affiliates each holiday with certain foods or meals: turkey for Thanksgiving, lamb for Easter, latkes for Hanukkah, Chinese take-out on New Year’s Eve. Sometimes we even forget the significance of holidays, for better or for worse, and see them as the night we eat (or drink) this or that. Afterall, that is the best part we all look forward to most.
With the vernal equinox approaching, Chahar-Shanbe Suri is the last Persian holiday on the solar calendar. It is celebrated on the eve of the last Wednesday (chahar-shanbe) of the year, when everyone gathers outside, dancing around a large bonfire, and jumping over smaller ones, trading their past year’s sorrows for the fire’s red healthy glow. My friend and fellow blogger Niloufar tells the tale better than I ever could. Read her post on the origin of the time-honored holiday and its traditions.
Spending an entire afternoon outside jumping and dancing calls for a nice bowl of ash to warm our gut. With Spring right around the corner, it’s the last call for this thick Persian winter soup. In many provinces in Iran, a specific ash recipe is reserved for Chahar-Shanbe Suri. In Mazandaran, for instance, bordering the Caspian Sea, Ash e Gazane or Ash e Torsh, sour ash, is prepared with pomegranate molasses, rice, and of course, a medley of fresh herbs and legumes.
In Tehran though, most stick to the mother of all ashes, Ash e Reshteh, with noodles. It’s filling and comforting, served communally right outside by the bonfire, and everyone warms their bellies together. Because, the holidays aren’t just about food, they’re about coming together as family, friends, and neighbors, and enjoying the warmth of a bowl with a side of each other’s company.
Reshteh in Farsi means noodle, and refers to a thin, flat type in particular, almost like linguine. If you don’t have access to a Persian grocer, linguine would be a good substitute.
Kashk, is somewhat similar to whey, derived from the leftovers of cheesemaking. Kashk can also be found in Persian or Middle Eastern grocery stores, in liquid or dry forms, or can be substituted with whey, sour cream, or even yogurt.
Ash-e-Chahar-Shanbe-Suri has magical powers, like a shooting star. Make a wish upon your bowl of ash, and may it come true in the new year.
Ash e Reshteh
You will need:
For the ash:
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup chickpeas
1/3 cup kidney beans
1/3 cup white beans
1/2 cup lentils
1 bunch spinach or chard, roughly chopped
2 bunches parsley
1 bunch cilantro
2 bunches green onion or chives
1/2 cup kashk
60-65 oz stock or water
24 hours in advance, soak the chickpeas in a bowl with cold water, changing the water periodically, to get rid of the stink. In a separate larger bowl, soak the kidney, white beans, and lentils together overnight.
Finely chop all herbs together and set aside.
In a large, heavy bottom pot, saute the chopped onion with salt in olive oil. Once shy of golden, add a teaspoon of turmeric, and continue to saute, about two minutes. Add the beans and stock, and bring to a boil. When beans are cooked, add salt, pepper, and herbs. Add the spinach, in batches if necessary, wilting it into the ash.
Next, add the reshteh or linguine, re-adjusting the seasoning.
The last step, is to stir in about 3/4 of the kashk, reserving the remaining amount for garnish. Kashk is an acquired taste, somewhat briny and ripe, with an aroma similar to feta cheese. First time users may want to add less, save it merely for a drizzle on top, or forgo it all together, depending on how adventurous you’re feeling. (I say dive right in to the deep end, but do not swallow a plain spoonful to decide. Trust me, you don’t want to go that deep. Somethings are not meant to stand alone.)
Allow to simmer for an hour. It’s all pretty easy, huh?
Now comes the best part: the toppings.
Dilute the remaining kashk with a teaspoon or two of water. This will make it drizzle-friendly.
For the mint oil, in a small saucepan, heat one tablespoon of dried mint with three tablespoons of olive oil over a gentle flame, switching the heat off as soon as it starts to sizzle.Set aside. A word of advice, do not skimp on this step. It makes all the difference.
In a fry pan, caramelize the chopped onion in oil, with salt and a generous spooning of turmeric.
Ash is great made ahead of time. It gets only better if it’s kept overnight in the fridge, reheated, topped with a drizzle of mint oil and kashk, a heap of turmeric fried onions, and shared with good company. Happy Chahar-Shanbe Suri!