Photo by Kankana Saxena
“Like most Persian ash, this is a very thick soup, and it satisfies even the biggest appetites. Unlike other ash, ash-e reshteh does not include rice, but has noodles. The combination of all the beans, greens and noodles makes a very addicting meal. It is totally a warm hug in a bowl,” says food blogger Laura Bashar of FamilySpice.com. The noodles are considered lucky because they symbolize longevity, she adds.
Ash-e reshteh is an ancient dish that dates back thousands of years in Iran. “It used to be thickened with wheat flour and water, then the flour and water became simple dumplings that were dropped into the soup. By A.D. 500 the dumplings had been stretched into reshteh, Persian for “noodles,” and that’s the form of the soup that we know today,” says cookbook author Louisa Shafia. Louisa loves the contrasting textures, colors and flavors of the soup. “With four different kinds of beans, leafy greens, noodles, yogurt and fried onions, every spoonful promises a treat. The strands of noodles represent the winding path of life,” she says. The soup is considered good luck not only for the new year but, she says, is also traditionally served at important occasions like the departure of a loved one on a long journey, or at the anniversary of a happy occasion. “The soup cooked on these special days is believed to have unusual powers. If you eat it, and especially if you help to make it, the legend suggests that your wish is likely to come true,” Louisa says.
The traditional soup is topped with a Persian ingredient called kashk, a form of whey. If you cannot find it, you can top the soup with yogurt to get the tanginess and fat.
Oh, but before you make soup for Nowruz, know that Persians celebrate Chahr Shambe Souri (Red Wednesday) on the last Wednesday of the Iranian year, just before Nowruz. “On this day, it is considered good luck to jump over a fire to rid of any evil omens lingering about you,” says Laura.
Yes, over the fire and then it’s on to the soup!
Persian New Year’s Soup With Beans, Noodles and Herbs (Ash-e Reshteh)
Adapted from Louisa Shafia, Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life (Ten Speed Press, 2009)
Cook 2 hours 45 minutes
Yield Serves 6 to 8
1/2 cup dried chickpeas
1/4 cup dried kidney beans
1/2 cup dried fava beans or 1 1/2 cups frozen lima beans, thawed
3 yellow onions
7 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 cup dried lentils
10 cups vegetable or chicken stock (or more if you want your soup thinner)
1 small handful fresh mint leaves, torn into pieces
6 ounces thin egg noodles or linguine, broken into thirds
1 large bunch leafy greens such as chard or spinach, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 cups plain yogurt
Start this recipe the night before, to soak the chickpeas, kidneys beans and fava beans. Boil them in 4 cups water for 1 minute, then turn off the heat and add a splash of apple cider vinegar. Cover the pot and let them soak overnight.
Dice 1 of the onions. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat and add 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
Drain and rinse the chickpeas, kidney beans and fava beans, and add them to the onion along with 4 of the garlic cloves, the turmeric and the lentils. Sauté for 1 minute. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Boil the beans, covered, for 1 hour.
Tilt the lid so the pot is partially covered and simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 1 1/2 hours. Season with salt.
Meanwhile, slice the remaining 2 onions into thin half moons. Heat a sauté pan over high heat and add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions and fry, stirring frequently, until the onions are brown and caramelized. Add the remaining garlic and the mint, and sauté for 1 minute. Season with salt and set aside.
Add the lima beans (if using) and noodles to the soup, and cook until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. When the noodles are almost done, add the greens, dill, cilantro and parsley, and cook for 2 minutes.
Serve with a large dollop of yogurt and a few tablespoons of the sautéed onion mixture.
Monica Bhide is the author of “Modern Spice” (Simon & Schuster, 2009).