Āsh ‘eh Anar – Pomegranate soup
(Before we delve into āsh, let’s take care of the tricky matter of its pronunciation. Āsh should be pronounced as if you’re going to say Osh Kosh Magosh and not as if you’re Scarlette O’Hara foolishly pining for Ashley, oh Ashley. So: Osh not Ash-ley. Ok? OK! Moving on.)
In Iran, a cook is an āshpaz, which literally translates to maker-of-āsh. And cooking is āshpazi or making-āsh. Coming back to our āshpazi blog after an unofficial hiatus, an āsh recipe then does seem a pertinent place to pick up from where we left off. Now, if you’re thinking to yourself: what in tarnation is āsh? Picture this: thick hearty soups with a mixture of herbs and veggies and legumes and sundry whatnots -somewhat akin to French potage -that’s what. Perfect whenever it is chilly outside.
So. Not too long ago I was invited to a potluck hosted by the talented cook and blogger friend Apuginthekitchen who was going to make her Flank Steak on Texas Toast with Chimichurri for the party — a winning recipe published in the Food 52 cookbook. (Let me tell you: it was crazy-delicious! Yum!) Others were going to bring, oh, let’s see, things like: biryani with raita, pistachio cardamom pound cake, sausage and kale tart, jalapeno slaw, homemade jam, thyme and apple puffs, …, just to name some of the goodies.
I wanted to make something non-fussy, potluck-friendly, and Persian of course. But: what? With discerning and accomplished cooks in attendance, and trying to represent the cuisine of Iran, the pressure was on! I pondered, I consulted, I wrung my hands and wore out my worry beads (not really) and finally figured I should make some type of cozy and nourishing āsh. Duh! Next question was: what type of āsh to make? There are so very many different types of āsh, you know – variations only limited by imagination and taste. Then the lightbulb moment: pomegranates! Not only are they in season, beautiful, naturally festive, and delicious, there’s also the convenient fact that Iranians have cultivated an encompassing and enduring love affair with pomegranates (a fruit native to the country) since ancient times, so a pomegranate āsh seemed just and fitting — and that is what I made.
Pomegranate āsh, like most other types of āsh, is a forgiving recipe (you do not have to be Swiss-watch-precise re the cooking time and you can putz around with the measurement of ingredients to some extent and substitute this for that within reason) and you’ll still be rewarded with a delicious and flavorful fare. Also in its favor: it is a one-pot construction with a list of ingredients that is short and simple, the most exotic must-have-ingredient being the pomegranate syrup, but you can substitute pomegranate juice in its lieu. (Pomegranate syrup should be readily available in most international and middle-eastern grocery stores. In NY try Kalustyans and Sahadi’s.) Mini meatballs are optional. I made my potluck offering with meatballs but when push comes to shove, I think I’ll prefer to do without next time, as the meatballs didn’t give enough oomph to the dish to merit the labor. The traditional garnish of sauteed garlic (sir ‘eh dagh) and dried mint (na’nah dagh), however, should not be dispensed with under any circumstances, as it adds a vital je ne sais quoi depth of flavor and aroma to the dish.
In conclusion: pomegranate āsh is a hearty, healthy and pleasurable fare (a mixture of tangy and earthy flavors) that is suitable either as a stand-alone meal or as a first course, and while I can’t claim that it behooves you to sample it, it is certainly worth a try!
Edited to add:
- Since you can’t get enough of āsh (you know you can’t, admit it), head on over to Fae’s blog for another āsh recipe. It looks positively yummilicious.
- In lieu of the texture provided by the meatballs, quarter (or chop into cubes) a couple of beets and throw them in the āsh. You can finely chop up the leaves and throw them in as well for good measure (to cook alongside with the rest of the chopped herbs.) I love beets, leaves and all, so this option makes my heart sing. This bright idea courtesy of my clever friend Banafsheh. Thank you B!
- If you can’t find pomegranate syrup in stores or if you simply prefer to make your own, here’s a simple formula of making your own, straight from apuginthekitchen: reduce pomegranate juice, for 15 or 20 minutes on medium high heat, boiling it until it’s reduced to a syrup. Suzanne doesn’t use lemon, “tart enough without lemon,” and she doesn’t use sugar either, as that would defy the whole point of ending up with a tangy syrup, now wouldn’t it? If the pomegrante itself is so sweet that the syrup ends up on the sweet than tangy side, Suzanne recommends adding a bit of lemon juice, or lemon zest if you don’t want to add any liquid to the syrup. Guess what? She also said that she makes a glaze for baked ham from the syrup. Wow. That sounds amazing! Anyway, there you go all you purists at heart. Have at it and make your own pomegrante syrup.
- 1/2 cup rice (rinse until water runs clear)
- 1/4 cup split peas (rinse a couple of times and drain)
- 1 bunch each of these herbs: 1) parsley, 2) leek chives, 3) coriander leaves (you can sub spinach for any)
- 2 to 4 cups pomegranate juice, OR, 1/2 cup pomegranate syrup
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 small-to-medium-sized onions (chopped)
- 1/3 cup of sugar (optional)
- 1/2 lb ground beef
- 1 onion, grated
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon dried mint
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced
- handful of pomegranate arils
- Discard the stems of parsley and coriander leaves, and trim the scraggly bulb end of leek chives. Wash, gently dry, and chop herbs.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a big pot and saute chopped onions till caramelized.
- Add split peas, 6-8 cups water, salt, pepper, and turmeric. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer (for around 15-20 minutes) until the split peas somewhat soften.
- Add the rice and continue to cook for another 15 minutes. Stir a couple of times to prevent sticking.
- Add the chopped herbs and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes longer. Stir as needed.
- Add the pomegranate juice (or syrup) and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
- Optional: Should you choose to make koofteh yeh sar gonjeshky (which is to say mini meatballs) to go with the soup, do this: mix 1/2 pound of ground meat with one grated onion; season with salt, pepper and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of turmeric; knead well to mix. Make hazelnut-sized meatballs, roll meatballs in a thin layer of flour and saute briefly in hot oil in a pan. Add to the soup same time with the pomegranate juice in step 6.
- Once soup is set to your liking, taste and adjust flavor. Add sugar (anywhere from a couple of tablespoons up to 1/3 cup per your taste) or conversely add more pomegranate syrup/juice to amp up the tart flavor. Your call.
- Just before serving, prepare garnish.
- Dried mint: Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan. When oil is quite hot, turn heat off, add the dried mint and stir in the pan for a minute. Remove dried mint and allow to cool. (Dried mint is prone to burning quickly, so take care to avoid.)
- Sauteed garlic: Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan till quite hot. Add sliced garlic, stir and saute for around a minute. (Don’t overdo it as garlic will lose its aroma.) Drain on a paper towel and allow to cool.
If the āsh is too thick at any time throughout the process add water to dilute. Don’t forget to stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
Serve hot. Pour soup into serving bowl. Top with dried mint, garlic garnish and a handful of pomegranate arils.
Left-overs may be refrigerated for up to 2 days. (Good news is that āsh actually tastes better the next day – when it’s had a chance to really settle in!) Just heat before serving
Make it, and enjoy it, and noosheh jaan!