In response to the proposed Muslim ban, one way for us to navigate these times is to educate ourselves ― to learn what we can about the cultures of the nations that are affected. We’re starting small, with simple dishes that everyone can make at home. After all, food is the distillation of community and culture to its most basic form. We hope you’ll cook along with us in support.
The Persian New Year, known as Norooz, falls on March 21 this year and is celebrated every year on the day of the vernal equinox (which means that the days will soon start being longer than nights). In honor of that celebration, we have a beloved Iranian recipe for you. One that will warm you up and stick to your bones.
This is a Persian dish called ash. Ash is a slow-cooked, thick soup that tastes like you’re being fed by every adoring grandmother in the world, all at once. (And we mean that in a good way.) Ash comes in a great many variations and the one we found that we love was created by the hands of Naomi Duguid from her beautiful cookbook, Taste of Persia. Duguid, a food writer and photographer, put together this book from her travels through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran and Kurdistan.
Asheh reshte is the recipe most traditionally eaten on Norooz, but we love Duguid’s version. Her recipe is made with tiny lamb meatballs ― just right for spring ― as well as a hearty helping of fresh herbs. We’re talking parsley, cilantro and springtime’s darling: mint. Plus, pomegranate molasses is used to sweeten the whole pot. Cooking this recipe is the best way to spend your evening.
Excerpted from Taste of Persia by Naomi Duguid (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2016. Photographs by Gentl & Hyers.
Pomegranate Ash with Meatballs
Ash is at the heart of Persian home cooking, a category of slow-cooked sustaining soups that are welcoming, subtle, and rewarding for cooks and eaters alike. The soups are also flexible: You can make substitutions, as long as they stay within the feel of the original.
This ash is an inviting blend of legumes and rice, flavored with little lamb meatballs. A crowd-pleaser. Like most ash recipes, this one looks long, but please don’t be dismayed. Yes, it takes some time to cook, but it’s a carefree kind of thing to make: Start it on a weekend afternoon and then set it aside until shortly before you want to serve it. Or make it a day ahead, and reheat it to serve. Just make sure it comes to the table hot.
- 1/4 cup sunflower or extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cassia (cinnamon)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 3/4 cup short-grain rice or broken jasmine or basmati rice (see Note), washed and drained
- 3/4 cup dried split peas, soaked in water for an hour (or as long as 12 hours) and drained
- 8 to 10 cups water, or as needed
- 1/4 pound scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
- 2 bunches flat-leaf parsley, leaves and tender stems, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
- 2 bunches coriander (aka cilantro), leaves and stems, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
- 1 bunch mint, leaves finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1-1/2 tablespoons sea salt, or to taste
- 4 to 6 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, to taste
- 1 onion, grated
- 1/2 pound ground lamb
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- About 1/4 cup sunflower or extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons dried mint
- 1 cup thinly sliced onion
- To make the soup, place the oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat, toss in the onion, cassia, and turmeric, and cook until the onion is translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the rice, drained split peas, and 8 cups water, raise the heat, and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to maintain a strong simmer and cook for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, or until the split peas are tender.
- While the soup is cooking, make the meatball mixture: Mix the onion thoroughly with the lamb. Mix in the salt and pepper. Set aside, covered, in the refrigerator.
- Add the scallions, parsley, coriander, and mint to the soup and simmer for 30 minutes. Add another cup or two of water to thin it, as you wish, and bring back to a strong simmer. Add the salt and 4 tablespoons pomegranate molasses and stir. Taste and add a little more pomegranate molasses if you like.
- Make the meatballs about 15 minutes before you want to serve: Scoop up about a heaped teaspoon of the meat mixture for each and roll it into a ball between your wet palms, then drop it into the soup. Let the soup continue to simmer while you make the toppings.
- Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil into a small skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Toss in the dried mint and immediately remove from the heat; it will fizz up a little. Set aside in a small bowl.
- Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the skillet over high or medium-high heat, add the sliced onion, and fry until starting to brown and crisp, about 6 minutes. Set aside on a plate.
- Ladle the hot soup into individual bowls, making sure to serve several meatballs in each, and top with a drizzle of mint oil, and with a sprinkling of fried onions if you wish.
Note: Short-grain rice or broken rice will break down more easily than long-grain rice as it cooks, and the starch from the rice helps thicken the soup.
To get your hands on more recipes like this one, check out Duguid’s cookbook.