Once again Yalda, one of Iranian’s much loved and cherished celestial moments and rituals is round the corner. We celebrate Yalda on winter solstice on Dec. 20th as the longest and darkest night of the year by getting together, reciting poetry and feasting over a colorful spread of dried fruits and nuts, aajil, specific fruits namely pomegranate, persimmon and watermelon, cozy heartwarming dishes and lots of light, hope and energy to get through the long but increasingly brighter winter ahead. See my precious posts for Yalda night here and here.
The Persian “Pomegranate Soup” or ash-e anar آش انار, will forever resonate with me the excellent culinary fiction by the same name written by Marsha Mehran, an eloquent Iranian-Irish author who passed too soon but whose novels depicted Persian cuisine enchanting as a fairy-tale full of texture, fragrance and mystery always ready to haut, charm and welcome those unfamiliar with it.
Ash-e anar is a hearty and flavorful dish with lots of fresh herbs as well as split-peas, rice and stuffed little meatballs. Its unique sweet-sour flavour is owed to pomegranate molasses which you could purchase from Middle Eastern or Iranian stores.
Ingredients: (serves 6)
- ½ kilogram light ground veal or beef
- 1 cup rice
- 1/2 cup yellow split peas
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 medium onion, grated
3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. chickpea flour
Fresh herbs: parsley, cilantro, scallion, 1 bunch each – sorted, washed and finely chopped
- Dried herb: savory or tarragon and mint 2 tbsp. each
1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
- Turmeric powder, salt and black powder pepper to taste
¼ cup tablespoons red and sour pomegranate seeds
Rinse split-peas and drain. Use a medium pot to mix split-peas, 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil then cook over medium heat until cooked at core and almost all the water is absorbed. Drain and set aside.
Rinse the pot and do the same for the rice: rinse, drain, mix with 2 cups water and cook at the core. Set aside (keep the rice in the pot with the remaining water if any is left)
Mix your fresh herbs with dry savory or tarragon (Keep dry mint separate as we need it for garnish)
Combine ground meat, grated onion, half your minced garlic, ¼ cup of mixed herb, chickpea flour, a pinch of turmeric, salt & pepper. Use your hand and fingers (not a blender) to massage and mix them very well. Then, make it into a large ball and leave to rest in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Make this large meatball into several ping-pong size meatballs.
Heat 2-3 tbsp. oil in a pan and sauté the balls over high heat till brownish. Shake the pan a few times so all sides of the meatballs are fried. Place them on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
In a medium to large pan, heat 2 tbsp. of oil and add the chopped onion. Sauté until translucent. Add a pinch of turmeric, black pepper and the reaming of the minced garlic. Continue frying for 1 more minute. Now add split-peas, contents of your rice pot (cooked rice along with the remaining water in the pot), mixed herbs and enough hot water to cover the mix. Then add 2 more cups of water. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes just so all ingredients are settled and mixed (you should always have the hot water kettle handy in case you need to add more water)
Add meatballs and pomegranate molasses to the pot and cook for another 20 minutes. Adjust the thickness by adding more water if necessary and taste for adjustment.
Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a small pot then add dry mint for a minute or two just so it gets slightly darker in color ; this is your nana dagh, the favorite garnish on many Persian foods. Serve ash in a big bowl, drizzle with fried mint and pomegranate seeds for extra color and bite!
Have a wonderful Yalda and keep warm!
Yalda, the Persian celebration of winter solstice, is around the corner. Hence the occasion for a special food blog entry – something representing red and orange colors of Yalda, something made with passion, and maybe pomegranate, to serve along with sweet-nuts mix, watermelon and persimmon as we get together with friends and family to bring to dawn the longest night of the year – the night before the beginning of winter, or the Yalda night.
On the eve of the winter solstice, Iranians gather to celebrate Yalda and bring this longest night of the year to dawn by reciting Hafez or Sa’di poems, or listening to the stories of a wise grandparent. They do this while eating off-season fruits historically believed to invoke the divinities and secure the protection of the winter crop.
I vividly remember celebrating Yalda nights back home, because I felt so well fed on those nights, not on the spiritual foods of the poetry-reciting elders, but on the watermelon and pomegranates we had gone out of our way to find Needless to say, Yalda is well and alive among Iranians in diaspora as another rope to cling on to the far away home and culture. This song below, called “zemestoon” (winter) is one of my most favourite songs of the 70s; it is about bare gardens and trees and a lonely lover in the winter, accompanied by a beautiful clip of old Tehran in winter. Happy Yalda 2011 everyone!