Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A FRESH HERB, BEAN, AND NOODLE SOUP - AASH-E RESHTEH - AZADI



Azadi?  What does Azadi mean, mama?

It means Freedom in Farsi, Luna.

The day before Nowruz - Persian New Year. We are at the Persian Bazaar - aka Westwood Blvd. - doing some last-minute shopping.  The girls pick out the sonbol - hyacinth - a purple one, of course.  Happily they crunch on the ajeel - the nut mix the store owners keep offering them. They marvel at the mounds of fresh green herbs everyone is sorting through - cilantro, parsley, dill, tarragon, chives, green onion, fenugreek.  With every inhale their noses fill with the inescapable aroma of Spring - a new day - tulips, cherry blossoms, rose water, seville oranges, hyacinth, hyacinth, hyacinth.  They practice snapping their fingers and swaying their hips to the joyful and celebratory music pouring out of every store.  At the bookstore Luna discovers a bookmark with Azadi written on it.

What does Freedom mean?

Three grown adults are momentarily left speechless.  Once we gather our thoughts - Drew, my mom and I try to convey what Freedom means to a five year old.  She listens quietly - head leaning to one side - chestnut brown eyes resting their soulful gaze on the haphazard chaotic world rushing past her car window.  Nothing more is said - or asked. 


Aash (rhymes with wash) is a hearty, thick soup typically made with a variety of herbs, legumes and grains. There are many different varieties of aash.  Each bursting with flavor and satisfying enough to be served on its own as a meal or in a smaller portion to begin each meal. Most aash can also be prepared vegetarian/vegan and gluten-free.   

Aash can be considered the foundation of Persian cooking.  The heart and soul of it.  In fact, the Persian word for kitchen is aash paz khaneh - the house (or room) where aash is made and the word for cook is aash paz - the maker of aash.  Different kinds of aash are traditionally eaten to celebrate or commemorate special occasions.  

Aash-e Reshteh literally means aash with noodles.  Traditionally Aashe-e Reshteh also known as Aashe-e Chaharharshanbeh Suri is served on the last Tuesday night before Nowruz - shabeh Chaharshanbeh Suri.  The noodles in the aash are said to symbolize the many winding paths that life spreads before us.  It is fitting then, to enjoy this heart warming aash right before the New Year, perhaps in the hopes of embarking on the right path for the coming year.  This also reminds me of the Italian tradition of eating Lentil Soup for good luck in the New Year. 


The preparation of Aash-e Reshteh is quite simple.  As with most Persian dishes that use an abundance of herbs, the most time consuming part is the washing and chopping of the fresh herbs.  A food processor can be of great help here.  And just like the preparation of Koo Koo Sabzi you don't need to get too caught up with taking every parsley leaf off the stem.  I cut off the long stems (you can save the stems for stock) and then run my knife through the herbs (little stems and all) a couple of times and throw everything in the food processor.  I like to use dry beans which I first soak for a few hours or overnight.  But you can also use canned beans if that's what you have on hand.  The combination I used here is chickpeas, red pearl beans (you can also use the slightly larger red kidney beans) and lentils.  Persian noodles -reshteh - can be found at Persian grocery stores or online, but linguini noodles work just as well.  And just like Kashki Bademjan, what really elevates this aash are the garnishes:  kashk and carmelized onion, mint and garlic.  If you can't find any kashk (or are still unsure of starting a relationship with this handsome new stranger), a sour European-style yogurt, or strained Greek-style yogurt or creme fraiche will work just fine too.  But I really think you should give kashk a chance. 

Be it a special occasion, a cold winter's night, a new journey, or simply one of those days when you just need a big hug, and a big bowl of comforting goodness in a bowl - Aash-e Reshteh is sure to hit the spot. 

The girls enthusiastically help me set up the Haft Seen table.  The hip-shimmying Persian music winds its way through the house.  Soleil and I debate the placement of the sonbol in relation to the goldfish - the goldfish like to be close to the sonbol so they can smell the sweetness too - two year old logic.  Luna runs up - out of breath - waving her Azadi bookmark.  She insists that we add it to the Haft Seen table.

It's important Mama.

This year on Thursday, March 20, 2014 at precisely 9:57am PST - precisely the moment when the Earth's axis tilts neither away nor toward the sun - when night and day are exactly the same length all around the world - we will welcome in a New Day - Nowruz.  And for the third year in a row Luna's Azadi bookmark will have a place at our Haft Seen table.

Because it's important.

Wishing you all a very Happy Nowruz and Peace and Freedom for everyone around the globe. 

    


Monday, March 17, 2014

HOMEMADE KASHK























I find the concept of an "acquired taste" a very interesting one.  Exactly when and how does one "acquire taste"?  

Growing up in Vancouver, whenever kashk was supposed to be used in a dish my mom would replace it with either yogurt or sour cream -  if we were feeding our Canadian or American friends.  Kharejeeha- foreigners (said Canadians or Americans being the "foreigners" in this case) don't like the taste of kashk, it's an acquired taste is what we would always hear.  So substitutions were made.  But as a child I always felt kharejeeha were missing out.  What was not to like about this tangy - flavorful - creamy - dip-like - yogurt-like - ingredient.

Thanks to the advent of technology and globalization the world has become a smaller place - and simultaneously our palates have expanded and "acquired" a liking and curiosity for foods from all different parts of the globe.  Kimchi, miso, harissa, za'atar - foods and spices that were once deemed ethnic or exotic are now as common place as mayo and ketchup - well, almost.  So it is in this spirit of world food and expanded curious palates that I present you with Kashk.  I think kharejeeha are more than ready and willing to give it try and fall in love with it.

Of course I am not the first to praise the deliciousness that is kashk.  As I mentioned in this post Mr. Ottolenghi has been talking up kashk for some time now. Think of kashk as an added creamy-like ingredient that really adds a depth of flavor to soups, aash (thick Persian soups-recipe coming next)- dips - stews - eggs...Use it as you might use creme fraiche in a savory dish.  Kashk plays the same role as anchovies, tomato paste, and parmesan rind do to add depth of flavor to any given food.  To give it that extra kick of deliciousness.  

In a nutshell, kashk is fermented yogurt.  I recently tried my hand at making homemade kashk.  Yogurt is mixed with equal parts water and simmered for a couple of hours until all the liquid has evaporated and you are left with a loose pulp.

Yogurt and water mix

Half way through the process.  The yogurt is breaking down and separating.

After about 2 1/2 hours.  The water has evaporated and the yogurt has broken down.

The pulp is then placed in a cheesecloth (I found using my nut milk bag worked great) and you squeeze as hard as you can to get rid of every last bit of the yellowish liquid (discard the liquid).  You want the pulp to be as dry as possible.






The dry pulp is then placed in a blender with some fresh water and salt.  Finally blend until you have a creamy consistency. 

I like to divide the kashk into small containers and either use right away or freeze until needed.  Although it takes a couple of hours to simmer the yogurt, the active prep time in making kashk is minimal.  Of course, you can also purchase kashk from Persian grocery stores.  If you purchase the dried kind you will have to reconstitute it with water.  I recommend using the refrigerated liquid kind.  You may have to try a few different brands to find the best tasting one (of course nothing is like homemade kashk).  You can also purchase kashk here , here, and here

And please do let me know if you "acquire" a taste for kashk.