Though he never cooked it until he came to the UK, my father learned to make Ash-e-Reshteh in Esfahan, Iran, standing beside his mother while she cooked. From the age of five he would watch his mum cook, helping however he could. My grandmother was a remarkable cook, satiating a household of nine every single day. With his mum running the show, my father never needed to cook for himself.
Things changed when my dad came to the UK in late '70s. He was away from Iran for over a decade and found himself missing his mother’s Ash-e-Reshteh. Inevitably, the London’s Iranian restaurants couldn’t match up to her. Drawing recipes from his memory, he started cooking the thick soup himself.
It’s not easy coming to a new country, especially when yours is in turmoil as Iran was around the time my dad settled here. We had a revolution, an Eight-year war and harsh US sanctions. The Iranian Association has really helped many new Iranian migrants with their status, well-being and community - just like my dad. They would be grateful for any support you could provide.
When I think of the Migrant Connections Festival, I think of my dad, brother and poor mother lifting 20kg pots of Ash-e-Reshteh from the car and waddling over to whatever makeshift kitchen we have. I feel like they save the festival every year and I am totally indebted to their unwavering support. They encapsulate the festival’s values around family, community and solidarity.
Ingredients and Method
Boil chickpeas, green split lentils, cannellini beans, rosecoco beans (Barlotti beans) and mung beans (maash). Depending on how you get hold of these (dry or cooked), you may need to soak them overnight. If you can’t find all of them it’s not the end of the world! Put the beans between your teeth to check if they are cooked.
Wash and then chop up coriander, parsley, tareh, spinach and dill. If you can’t get tareh, you can use chives instead. My dad complains that chives in the UK are very thin, compared to tareh which is as wide as a belt. He suggests that the stem of a large spring onion could also be used. Whatever you do, use plenty of herbs!
In a frying pan, fry some finely chopped onions. My dad puts in a lot. He says that the more there is, the tastier it is. After a couple of minutes add the herbs and fry them for a few minutes. Then add boiling water and let them boil for 10 to 15 minutes. My father warns that you can be left with a raw taste if you undercook the herbs.
Add the pulses to the herbs and onions, cook for at least 30mins. Stir regularly so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Add a little water if needed to manage the viscosity. You’re aiming for a thick soup texture. Add salt, pepper, turmeric to taste.
At the very last 5 or 10 minutes, add the reshteh noodles. If you can’t find these vermicelli pasta can work too. As a topping you can have kashk (whey sauce) if you can find it, or vinegar, or you can fry some finely chopped onions until they have gone form golden brown to brown (piaz dagh). My dad likes to add dried mint to the piaz dagh, fry them only for a few seconds.
How to serve
Ash-e-Reshteh is a hearty and healthy dish, ideal if it’s cold, if you’re ill, or even as a working lunch to power you through the day. It’s a dish often served at the anniversary of someone’s passing. In that tradition, you might want to remember a loved one as you prepare it.
By Sohail and Rasoul Jannesari