Monday, 22 March 2010

Aash-e reshteh: Ottolenghi's take on the Persian soup

Happy Persian New Year! It's No Ruz again and that means aash-e reshteh (Iranian noodle soup) at the Saffron household.

A couple of weeks back, Yotam Ottolenghi posted this recipe for legume and noodle soup in his New Vegetarian column on the Guardian website. One look at the picture and I was mitten. It wasn't until I read through the recipe that I realized it was the Ottolenghi take on aash-e reshteh! And just in time for the spring equinox, and No Ruz. I knew I had to try it!

Chock-full of greenery to celebrate the arrival of spring, I have always thought of aash-e reshteh as a herb and spinach noodle soup, but I guess there are other interpretations (g). With three different legumes--chickpeas, butterbeans and yellow split peas--legume-lovers will certainly cheer at Ottolenghi's version (g).

The soup has a lovely velvetiness from the yellow split peas and is garnished beautifully with turmeric onions (you could also add some dried mint to the onion garnish, as Najmieh-khanom does), sour cream and a few reserved butterbeans and chickpeas. It's those cheffy but not fussy little Ottolenghi touches that I love. It looks lovely and tastes like spring should.

All those lovely legumes means, of course, that you are going to have to get them recipe-ready (almost, but not quite cooked). The easy way--if you have a pressure cooker-- is to soak and cook each variety separately. After soaking for 8 hours, it only took me about 10 minutes to get both legumes cooked up this way (around 2.5 min for the chickpeas once they came to pressure, and around 6 min for the "butterbeans" (in my case a pricey larger Japanese variety called shirohana-mame). Real butterbeans would probably take less time, I suppose.) I don't soak with bi-carb soda, but it could make a difference to the cooking time, who knows? When in doubt about cooking times, err on the side of caution with a pressure cooker. You can always cook some more if you need to.

Does all that sound like a lot of work? It's really not. I made this version much quicker than the Najmieh Batmaglij recipe I usually follow from Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies. And the results were just as fabulous, even substituting hard-to-find ingredients like kashk (whey paste) with readily available ingredients like sour cream and vinegar. I'm now hard-pressed to say which version I prefer!

I have been tickled pink to see Ottolenghi showcasing Persian cooking of late; first with eggplant kuku and now aash-e reshte. With food this moreish, all I can say is More please!

Legume noodle soup: Ottolenghi's take on aash-e reshteh

Serves 8

125 g dried chickpeas, soaked in water overnight with 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
125 g dried butterbeans, soaked in water overnight with 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
2 large onions, thinly sliced
10 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
80 g clarified butter
1½ tsp turmeric
Salt and black pepper
225 g yellow split peas
Roughly 2 litres vegetable stock
35 g chopped parsley
35 g chopped coriander
15 g chopped dill
100 g spring onion, thinly sliced
150 g baby spinach
100 g reshteh (or linguine) [S: broken in half]
150 g soured cream, plus 1 tsp per portion to finish
1½ tbsp white wine vinegar
4 limes, halved

1 Drain and rinse both the chickpeas and butterbeans, then either boil them separately in lots of fresh water until almost cooked – anywhere ­between 25 and 55 min, or cook under low pressure for around 2.5 min for the chickpeas and around 5 min for the butterbeans, once they come to pressure – and drain. Reserve a few of each legume as a garnish

2 In a large, heavy-based pot, sauté the onion, garlic and butter on ­medium heat for 20 minutes, or ­until soft and golden-brown. Stir in the turmeric and some salt and ­pepper, then lift a third of this mix from the pot and transfer to a dish for use later.

3 Add the chickpeas and butterbeans to the pot, then add the split peas and stock. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming off the froth occasionally, or until the peas are tender. Add the herbs, spring onion and ­spinach, stir and cook for 15 minutes more; add extra stock (or water) if the soup is very thick. Taste and season generously.

4 Add the noodles and cook for about 10 minutes, so that they are just done. Stir in the soured cream and vinegar, adjust the seasoning and serve at once, garnished with extra soured cream and the reserved cooked onion mix. Serve lime halves to squeeze over every portion.


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