Persian Favourites Asheh Reshteh, Taachin and Yakh Dar Behesht
New Year Noodle Soup
This is the mother of all Persian soups, cooked the ancient way in a great big pot and served on special occasions such as Nazri (when food is distributed to the poor) or Norooz (Persian New Year’s Day). Asheh reshteh is hearty and full of sustenance, containing spinach, rice noodles (to represent life’s many paths), kidney beans and chickpeas, and topped with whey, fried mint and onions.
50g each of the following: dried chickpeas, dried red kidney beans, brown lentils, dried haricot beans, all soaked overnight then drained
2.25l to 2.5l unsalted chicken stock or beef stock or water – enough to cover the beans
Chives or spring onions, finely chopped
50g flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
200g finely chopped fresh spinach
125g chopped beetroot leaves (or more spinach)
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt
200g Persian noodles (or any thin, flat eggless or Asian rice noodles)
FOR THE TOPPING:
5 to 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or finely diced
3 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp dried mint
250g kashk (see Top Tip box above)
1. Put all the soaked, drained beans (but not the lentils) into a big pot and cover with the stock or water. Bring to the boil and maintain a high heat for 10 minutes, skimming if you need to. Then lower the heat to medium and cook for about 45 minutes.
2. Add the lentils and cook for a further 20 minutes. Add the chopped herbs and leaves, turmeric, salt and pepper and let the water come to the boil again. Cook for about 10 minutes or until there are two bubbles in the middle of the soup.
3. At this point, add the noodles, breaking them up with your hands first. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the noodles are done. The cooking time is a little less than average so that the herbs and leaves stay green.
4. Make the topping by frying the garlic in a tablespoon of oil. Fry the onions separately in another tablespoon of oil until golden and crispy. Fry the mint separately in the remaining oil until dark, stirring all the time – otherwise it will burn – about 1 minute. To serve, pour into a large bowl, top with fried mint, fried onions and garlic and kashk (1 tablespoon per person. If it’s thick just use half a tablespoon).
Kashk is a fermented by-product of cheese-making and is sold in Middle Eastern food shops. If you can’t find any, substitute it with soured cream, although this will change the taste.
Yoghurt and Garlic-marinated Chicken in a Saffron Rice Cake
Taachin means ‘to arrange everything at the bottom.’ This is a savoury cake that’s perfect for parties because of its stunning visual effect. It’s ideal for picnics too, as it’s easy to transport. Rice is layered with chicken marinated with yoghurt and garlic and lots of saffron. There’s also a lamb and spinach version, as well as one layered with aubergine, which is a fairly new recipe. You could also stud the rice with barberries. For parties, just prepare it in advance and put in the oven at the last minute – the presentation is guaranteed to impress.
There is much debate in our family as to whether onions and egg yolks should be included. I decided to do the version that I like best, it has both onions as well as egg yolks.
800g basmati rice, soaked in water for at least 5 hours
500g to 600g skinless, boneless, chicken breasts cut into cubes
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
½ to 1 tsp salt
A few twists of pepper
½ tsp turmeric
6 to 7 small garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1kg Greek yoghurt
½ tsp saffron threads, pounded then dissolved in 2 to 3 tbsp hot water
75g dried barberries (optional)
4 egg yolks
1. Cook the rice until it’s al dente.
2. Place the chicken, butter, oil, onion, some salt and pepper, turmeric and half of the garlic in a large frying pan. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes on a low heat. Tip the mixture into a bowl and cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the yoghurt, the rest of the garlic and saffron liquid and mix well. Marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
3. Preheat the oven to 190C. Take the chicken out of the marinade and set aside. Add the egg yolks to the marinade mixture with some extra salt and stir well. Then take the cooked rice and set aside 175g for later. Ladle the remainder of the rice into the yoghurt and egg mixture. Fold it in, but be gentle so that the rice grains don’t get crushed, otherwise you’ll be left with a mushy cake. Stop as soon as the whole mixture is combined smoothly.
4. Take a non-stick baking dish and spread the reserved cup of plain rice over the bottom. Then add 1/3 of the rice and egg mixture. Layering the dish in this way stops the rice and egg mixture coming into direct contact with the pan and burning. Add a layer of chicken pieces (and barberries if using) then a layer of rice again. Repeat until the dish is filled. Cover with a lid or wrap with foil. Place in the oven and cook for 1½ hours until the bottom is golden brown. When the dish is cooked, turn it out over a plate immediately, so that the crunchy taadig (crust) at the base doesn’t go soggy.
Yakh Dar Behesht
Ice In Heaven
I love to serve yakh dar behesht after a heavy meal. This delicate Persian custard laced with rose water and sprinkled with pistachios takes me back to a beautiful walled garden in Isfahan. It’s traditionally made with milk, but for a dairy-free version use rice or almond milk. Serve in individual ramekins or a large bowl and scatter with rose petals and edible gold leaf. Your guests will be transported to another time and place where desserts are always savoured slowly.
75g rice flour
150g sugar, preferably unrefined
2 tbsp rose water
5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 tbsp silvered pistachios
Noghl (sugar-coated almonds), to serve
Rose petals and edible gold leaf to serve (optional)
1. Place the milk, rice flour and sugar in a saucepan. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon, over medium to low heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to thicken – about 10 minutes. Make sure the mixture doesn’t stick at the bottom by scraping the bottom and sides of the saucepan with a spoon.
2. Add the rose water and the cardamom pods and continue cooking and stirring until the custard is thick and glossy – about another 2 minutes. The custard will resemble a white cream patisserie.
3. Pick out the cardamom pods and then pour the custard into the ramekins, silicone moulds or a serving dish. Leave to cool in the fridge for a few hours, then sprinkle with silvered pistachios, noghl, rose petals and gold leaf.
Ariana Bundy, author of Pomegranates and Roses, available from Bloomingdale’s home, Dhs150