We recently read the fascinating book “Breaking Bread: Recipes and Stories from Immigrant Kitchens” by Lynne Christy Anderson. Along with the often poignant stories, there were a number of wonderful sounding recipes that accompanied each portrait: Lebanese stuffed grape leaves, Russian mushroom casserole, Greek spanakopita, Salvadoran quesadilla (it’s sweet!!) ….
Then we read about awsh in the chapter, “Food, the Great Icebreaker”, featuring Yasie Saadat and her mother, both originally from Iran. As with all the other interviews, this took place in the kitchen.
It’s Yasie’s voice that someone might be drawn to first. clear and melodic, it rises and falls with the twists and turns of her story. […]
Like so much about this kitchen, with its display of beautiful Persian artwork and the quiet competence of these women, who have spent the morning chopping, stirring, and sautéing, the food they’ve prepared is sublime, a unique combination of subtle flavors. […] There’s the musty sweetness of the saffron oil, the acidity of the kashk, the bouquet of herbs cooked gently to perfection. It’s quite unlike anything I ordinarily eat. We could almost be in Tehran. […]
In Iran we have […] awsh, which are the traditional Persian dishes, more like a stew. Again herbs are a major part of these foods; every awsh has its own combination. So you put a lot of herbs and dried beans and noodles into them. When we did that, everyone really loved it. -Yasie Saadat
– Lynne Christy Anderson, ‘Food, the Great Icebreaker – Yasie’s Persian Kashk-o-Bedemjan and Kou Kou Sabzi, “Breaking Bread”, p. 181, 183, 186
We couldn’t wait to see the recipe for awsh. We stopped reading and riffled quickly to the recipes section. Waaahhhhh! Saadat’s recipe for awsh wasn’t included!
And yet I have a vivid recollection of actually SEEING these two women making awsh! (Wouldn’t Lynne Christy Anderson and Yasie Sadaat be thrilled to learn that they had made such an impression on me? )
We wanted to try awsh!!
Google to the rescue!
It turns out that “awsh” is the Persian word for soup. There are few hits for “awsh” but several for “ash-e” and “aush”.
As with any soup/stew, there are as many recipes as there are people who make it. But the constant seems to be ground meat and pulses. We chose chickpeas because that’s what the women in Anderson’s book used.
Apparently, awsh is traditionally served with noodles. We WERE going to serve the awsh with noodles. We really were. But at the last minute, we decided to have it with rice. We continued to break tradition by adding the North African spice mixture ras el hanout.
Sure, awsh may look like dog’s breakfast. But don’t let looks fool you. It was delicious!
The next day, I had it with noodles and it was pretty darn good that way too. But I think I prefer it with rice.
What am I saying? We LOVE it with rice.
based on Bonnie C’s Aush (Afghani Chili)
- 1 cup dried chickpeas
- 1 bunch spinach
- splash olive oil
- 1-3 whole dried chilies (or some crushed red pepper flakes)
- 1.5 Tbsp ground cumin
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
- 1 lb ground pork ¹
- 3 Tbsp tomato sauce ²
- 2 Tbsp ras el hanout
- garam masala, to taste
- rice, cooked ³
1 cup sour cream, optional 4
1.5 Tbsp dried mintoptional 5
- On the evening before you are going to make awsh, sort (to remove stones) and wash the chickpeas well. Place them in a bowl large enough for the beans to triple. Add plenty of cold water and a pinch of baking soda – the beans will expand – add a little more water than you think is necessary. Cover the bowl and leave to soak overnight.
- The next morning, remove any beans that are floating. Drain and rinse the beans. Discard the soaking water. Put the drained beans in a big pot and cover with fresh cold water. DO NOT ADD SALT. Bring to a boil. Immediately turn down to a low simmer. Cover, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes or until beans are tender (If you didn’t add baking soda to the soaking water, it will take at least 4 times as long to cook the beans). The outer husks will still be firm when the insides are soft. They are done when the insides of the beans are soft.
- Wash the spinach well and let it drain in a colander. Sprinkle it with about a tablespoon of salt. Toss to mix and set aside to drain for about half an hour. After it has drained, rinse (to get rid of all the extra salt) and hand-squeeze the spinach til it is quite dry. Discard any liquid. Let it rest in colander for a few more minutes. Then squeeze again – 3 or 4 times in total. And taste to be sure there’s no excessive salt. Set aside in a bowl. (Actually, this can be done the day before too – this method preserves the spinach for days in the fridge.)
- Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Put the chile pepper in and allow to cook until the chile turns dark brown Add the cumin and stir until the spices are aromatic.
- Add onions and cook until they begin to turn gold. Add the garlic and cook a little more to brown it. Add ground meat and cook til it begins to brown. Stir in the tomato sauce, ras el hanout (the recipe we were following called for chilli powder; we decided to substitute ras el hanout) and some garam masala and chickpeas. Simmer 30 to 40 minutes.
- Just before serving, chop spinach and stir it in to heat it.
Serve awsh with thin noodles or rice.
1.) Ground Pork: Obviously, no self-respecting Muslim would use ground pork. Virtually all the awsh recipes we found called for ground beef. But we rarely buy beef any more….
2.) Tomato sauce: The recipe we used called for tinned tomatoes and their juice. We always have tomato sauce in the freezer (made from fresh tomatoes), so used that instead.
3.) Rice: Almost all the awsh recipes call for noodles. The recipe we used called for one 16 ounce package fettuccine, broken in half. But the photos of awsh noodles looked thinner than fettuccine – closer to vermicelli.
4.) Sour Cream: Most of the awsh recipes called for yoghurt. Again, we just decided to omit it. Please don’t tell the Awsh Police.
5.) Dried Mint I like the idea of mint but think fresh would be a better alternative than dried. And because I have a black thumb, our garden mint has once again refused to flourish. Hence, no mint in our awsh.
- Awsh Recipes:
» allrecipes.com: Bonnie C’s Aush (Afghani Chili)
» afghancooking.net: Aush – Noodle Soup with Beef and Yogurt
» payvand.com: My Granny’s Aash-e Sholeh Qalamkar (scroll down to the bottom paragraph to see the recipe)
- recipes from OUR kitchen:
» Ras el Hanout
» garam masala
» tomato sauce
» blog recipes index
» recipes index
We loved awsh so much that we made it again the other day, using Romano beans instead of chickpeas. It was easily as good.
Then yesterday for lunch, I had leftover awsh. I put a spoonful of plain yoghurt on top. I rummaged through the spice drawer and saw that by a miracle, we had dried mint. So I sprinkled on a bit of crushed dried mint. It was BRILLIANT! In the future, I will always garnish awsh with yoghurt and mint.
(On re-reading this chapter, I just noticed that Saadat mentions pebble bread. There’s a recipe for that in “Flatbreads and Flavours” by Naomi Duguid and Jeffery Alford that I bookmarked in March to bake on the barbecue this summer when it was warmer. Pfooey! I forgot. Now it’s getting cold again. How I wish that I had a steel-trap mind instead of the sieve-like one I am plagued with.)
But how lucky are we that we can simply rummage through our kitchen drawers and cupboards, or hop on our bikes to the store to find chickpeas, spices, fresh ground meat, yoghurt, herbs, etc. etc.? Others are not so fortunate. Many others….
World Food Day
Today, one in eight people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life, making hunger and malnutrition the number one risk to health worldwide – greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
Last Tuesday was World Food Day, a yearly event put together by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to raise awareness and funds to feed the world’s chronically hungry.
But, really, as long as there are chronically hungry people, every day is World Food Day.
This year’s theme is “Agricultural cooperatives – key to feeding the world” as the FAO, in partnership with many others, works towards better approaches for ending world hunger.
Remember, there IS enough food in the world to feed everyone. What we are lacking are ways to ensure that all the world’s people get their rightful share. It’s up to us to feed our hungry neighbours.
In our neighbourhood in Toronto, where there are too many visible signs of those who are poor and in need, the West End Food Co-op is linking with Parkdale Community Health Centre “to create a stronger and healthier west end”.
World Food Day
What is a cooperative?
A cooperative is a special type of enterprise.
It is a social enterprise that balances two main goals:
- satisfying its members’ needs, and
- pursuing profit and sustainability.
In other words, a cooperative is an association of women and men who come together to form a jointly owned, democratically controlled enterprise where generating a profit is only part of the story.
Cooperatives put people before profit. They also help their members achieve their shared social, cultural and economic aspirations. A cooperative is a social enterprise that promotes peace and democracy.
– World Food Day 2012 leaflet | WFP | United Nations World Food Programme
Please remember when giving your donations to ensure that the relief agency you have chosen already has operations set up in the area. Also, it’s a good idea to ask their advice about whether it is best to specify “greatest need” on your donation. They know best where the moneys really need to go.
Here are just a few possibilities. Please look in your community for others:
- Daily Bread Foodbank
- Second Harvest
- Ontario Association of Food Banks
- Canadian Association of Food Banks
- World Vision International Programs
- Action Against Hunger
- Freedom from Hunger
- The Global FoodBanking Network
- The Hunger Project
- wfp.org World Food Program: Bloggers Against Hunger; Solving Hunger: the greatest solvable problem
And don’t forget about these sites online.
(If you have something to add or say about stopping world hunger, please remember to post your thoughts and ideas on your blog, facebook, at work, etc. etc.)