While Persian cuisine is famous for its rice dishes, this winter try this incredible thick Persian soup. More like a thick stew in texture it is super easy, wholesome, nutritious and delicious. And learn more about Persian cuisine from what gives it is own unique but delicious flavour unlike any other.
The first time I tried this dish was at a market stall. Mr NQN's former colleague Saba Taghavi is Persian and they worked together a few years ago. But Saba's real passion is spreading the word of his native Persian cuisine so on weekends he has his own market stall called Persian Noon at Glebe and Bondi markets.
At every market pop up he focuses on one item and this winter it is this osh or ash reshteh, a thick, rib sticking and super tasty soup stew made with chickpeas, beans, lentils and noodles. It is topped with some sweet, crispy turmeric onions, kashk or whey and dried mint. There are also some drinks on offer as well as walnut stuffed dates. But what everyone was gravitating towards was this soup on a sunny but chilly winter's day in Bondi.
Saba explains, "We normally call this sort of thick soup Osh/Ash. There are different varieties of Osh but this one is the most popular one. Its mainly a homemade food and normally its cooked in winter when many relatives are gathered at someone's place. It is served in a very big bowl and everyone fills up their own bowl from it."
Stand at Bondi Markets
For those who are not familiar with Persian cuisine Saba says, "People think Persian cuisine is all about spices like Indian, Lebanese or even Turkish cuisine, but its not like that. Persian cuisine taste and flavour is mainly coming from herbs not spices. Of course turmeric and saffron are the most popular spices in this cuisine."
Over lunch at Saba's house we try the Kuku Sabzi, a herb rich omelette made with fresh, chopped parsley, coriander, dill and chives in a light and fluffy frittata topped with barberries and walnuts.
Mirza Gasemi (left) Borani Esfenaj (right)
We also try some dips including Borani Esfenaj or a spinach dip with Persian yoghurt and caramelised onions. There's also Mirza Gasemi or a charred eggplant dip made with crushed with tomato which is slow cooked with garlic, turmeric and egg. These are served with a fresh herb salad containing tarragon, spring onion, parsley and coriander as well as Persian pickles.
Parvardeh (top) Ashpal (right)
Much of the food that he prepares is from the north of Iran with many based on his mother Shoreh's recipes. In the north of Iran marinated Caspian olives (Parvardeh) are popular and these olives have a crushed walnut paste with pomegranate and dried mint, garlic and coriander with golpar or Persian hogweed.
Fesenjoon (centre) and Persian rice (bottom)
Another dish is Ashpal or a fava beans topped with Caspian sea salted fish eggs. The fava beans are mixed with crushed walnuts, chopped mint, lime juice and a bit of olive oil. This is perfect to serve with drinks. Fesenjoon is a meatball stew that starts with slow cooked ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses to which meatballs, parsley and garlic chives are added. These are all items that he makes for the catering arm of Persian Noon and he is also catering the upcoming opening and closing nights of the Persian film festival in Leichhardt.
What strikes me as I am tasting these dishes is that although a lot of these ingredients are familiar to us through Greek, Turkish or Lebanese cuisine, the flavour and result is so different. For example, the spinach dip that I expected to taste like tzatziki but it bears little taste resemblance to it. Persian food has an appealing, mild sourness like yogurt (rather than say a stronger sourness like lemon). And a lot of home made Persian food is vegetarian too.
Saba's maternal grandfather was actually a royal chef so food has always played a large part in his family's life. "I remember my aunties always cooking something different or even exploring international cuisines which was very rare at the time," he says.
He explains that in Persian cuisine everything is slow cooked so it takes time to prepare with a lot of work at the beginning but a lot of dishes are left to cook. There is also not much sweetness in Persian cuisine and breakfast is the main meal in which you will find sweets with jams being served alongside butter, cheese and walnuts and breads. He tells us that there is also a saying that says, "Too much cheese can make you dumb" so Iranians eat cheese with walnuts to balance it out.
"Persian is a culture, Iranian is a country," he says and when serving food it differs from Western cuisine that focuses on an individual's plate. "It is not about your plate it’s about the table," he explains.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you tried much Persian food? Do you like sour foods? And are you looking forward to spring coming up?
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Osh Reshteh - Persian Bean and Noodle Thick Soup
Adapted from Persian Noon
Preparation time: 20 minutes plus overnight soaking time
Cooking time: 1.5 hours
- 8 cups stock
- 1 cup lentils, soaked overnight and drain
- 400g/14oz. tin chickpeas, drained
- 400g/14oz. tin kidney beans or black eyed beans, drained
- 1 bunch garlic chives, chopped (I used garlic shoots/scapes)
- 1 bunch spinach, fresh, chopped roughly
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 180g/6ozs. dried noodles for ash, you may find reshteh (noodles) in Persian/Iranian grocery stores or you can use long noodles
- 3-4 tablespoon oil
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons dried mint
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 cup kashk (liquid whey) or natural yogurt
- Saffron strands
- Dried mint heated in oil
Step 1 - Place the chickpeas, beans and lentils in a large pot with stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low to medium, cover and cook for 1 hour.
Step 2 - Add the chopped garlic chives/shoots and spinach. Stir well, cover and cook for 20 minutes on medium-low heat. Then add noodles or pasta and cook for 15 minutes adding more water if needed. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Step 3 - In medium pan, heat 3-4 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sliced onions and cook until golden. Add the turmeric powder and stir well.
Step 4 - Pour the soup in a large serving bowl, top with kashk or yogurt, fried onion, dried mint in oil and saffron.