My previous life must have been somewhere in old Persia. I am absolutely convinced of this. I am completely infatuated by the richness of Persian cuisine, by its clever use of spices and herbs, by the ingenuity of its rice-making, by pomegranate, saffron and pistachios, by yoghurt, mint and dried limes. It seems that my palate is just naturally honed for this set of flavours.
Unfortunately, I have never been able to travel to Iran but my love affair with its food has been abundantly fed in recent years by the inspirational books of Najmieh Batmanglij. These are where I go to for a peep into a sweet, yet forbidden, culinary world.
This heart-warming thick soup, called ash-e reshteh, is the Iranian answer to minestrone. It is wonderfully wholesome and nourishing and leaves a real smile on your face. I found reshteh noodles at an Iranian grocer near me but linguine would do the job just as well. You can also dispense of the noodles all together if you like. There is plenty going on, body-wise, without.
125g dried chickpeas, soaked in water overnight with 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
125g dried butterbeans, soaked in water overnight with 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
80g clarified butter
2 large onions, thinly sliced (400g)
10 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1½ tsp ground turmeric
225g yellow split peas
2 litres vegetable stock
35g parsley, chopped
35g coriander, chopped
15g dill, chopped
100g trimmed spring onions, thinly sliced
150g baby spinach
100g reshteh or linguine
150g soured cream, plus 1 teaspoon per portion to finish
1½ tbsp white wine vinegar
4 limes, halved
salt and black pepper
Drain and rinse the chickpeas and butterbeans, bring two pans of water to the boil and cook them separately: this should take anywhere between 20 and 40 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Put the butter, onion and garlic in a large pan and place on a medium heat. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown. Stir in the turmeric, ½ teaspoon of salt and some black pepper and remove a third of this mix from the pan to use later.
Add the chickpeas and butterbeans to the pan, then add the split peas and stock. Simmer for about 35 minutes, skimming the froth occasionally, or until the peas are tender.
Add the herbs, spring onion and spinach, stir well and cook for another 15 minutes; add more stock or water if the soup is very thick. Add the noodles and cook for about 10 minutes so that they are just done. Stir in the soured cream and vinegar and serve at once, garnished with a teaspoon of soured cream per portion and the reserved cooked onion. Serve lime halves to squeeze over every portion.