This is me admitting I don't know the first thing about Persian food.
(Actually, that's a bowl of Aashe Reshteh, made by me, who knows not the first thing about Persian food.)
After seeing this soup/stew on a documentary about Iran the other day, I had a fire in my belly to make it. What was stopping me? Having no idea where to get these narrow, slightly spicy-tasting noodles called reshteh.
Fortunately, our wonderful friend Eric happens to work next door to the Mediterranean Market in Lake Oswego, and he offered to pop in and see if they had them. I offered to make him dinner if he brought the reshteh. Huzzah! The noodles were found and duly brought, the soup was duly made, and yeah, it was pretty much a hit all 'round. Cue my sigh of relief, because I didn't follow any particular one of the many recipes I found (though I started with this one and this one). So this may not be the world's most authentic Aashe Reshteh, but it's a decent place to start.
Sure, it's a little bit of a project. But there's plenty of simmering time and the prep work is none too onerous.
Serves at least ten. We had five for dinner, three of whom had seconds, and there's enough left for tomorrow's lunch.
1 cup dried white (navy) beans
Water to cover beans, plus more (about two knuckles'-depth)
3 Tbsp oil
2 small to medium onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
A 2" piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
8 cups vegetable or chicken broth, or 4 cups broth and 4 cups water, which is what I used
1/2 cup lentils
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained (You could also use about 1/2 cup dried garbanzo beans, then soak and cook them similarly to the white beans–I was just out of dried garbanzos. If you use more dried beans, add more broth/water up front.)
2 cups additional vegetable broth
A mixture of greens; you have quite a bit of leeway here, but this is what I used:
2 cups fresh chopped spinach
1 bunch of scallions, white and light green parts and a little of the dark green, thinly sliced
1 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup roughly chopped fresh watercress (why not?)
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
A 12-ounce package of reshteh; you might not want to use the whole thing, as I did. Two-thirds would probably be sufficient. I just didn't want little noodly odds and ends hanging around.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 additional onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint (it's lovely if you slice it in a chiffonade)
A cup or so of plain whole-milk yogurt (you could also use sour cream)
Any time during the day of prepping the soup: rinse and pick over dried beans. Add to a soup pot with water to cover generously. Bring just to a boil; cover; remove from heat and let stand one hour. Drain and set aside.
About two hours before you want to eat: Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until well-cooked and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, turmeric and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add dried beans and 8 cups broth to pot. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer about 45 minutes, or until beans are barely tender.
Add lentils (and canned beans, if using) and additional 2 cups broth. Return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer an additional 20 minutes.
Stir in greens. Return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low (this is starting to get a bit repetitive) and simmer 15 minutes more.
Add reshteh, broken into pieces if you like (it makes them considerably more manageable). Return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium (ah! a break from the monotony!), cover partially, and cook until noodles are tender, about 10 minutes. Taste and correct for salt and pepper (it will probably need more salt, and def. some pepper).
As soon as you add the reshteh, start making the garnish. Heat additional olive oil in a small skillet. Add sliced onion and cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until onions are browned. Remove from heat and stir in chopped mint.
In a small bowl, stir yogurt until very smooth.
I don't own a tureen (though one is totally on my shopping list), so I just ladled the soup into bowls, put a little of the onion/mint garnish over each serving and passed the yogurt separately so everyone could blop some on to his or her own soup. If you have a tureen, you should do the traditional Persian thing and fill it with the soup, put all the garnish on top and then drizzle it with the yogurt/sour cream. Then ladle it into bowls at the table, making sure everyone gets some of the INCREDIBLY GOOD-TASTING garnish.
Without the yogurt on top, this soup is (shhh…) vegan.