Thursday, March 24, 2011

Persian Barley Soup (Asheh Jo)

I love Persian food. Growing up, some of my friends came from Iranian backgrounds and their mothers were the best cooks (seriously, I would still gladly live off their food). I've always wanted to be able to cook like them, but have never given it a try. For about a month now (in the middle of summer) I've been eyeballing this recipe, wondering when I'd be able to make it. It combines so many things I love into what looked like a perfect winter soup. I finally got around to making this recipe today, after my first gloomy, cold and rainy day since June. While I was making this soup, I was really skeptical. The dish doesn't come together until the end when all the flavors have been cooking together for a while. But once this happens, it is awesome. It's a meal in a bowl, and even though I made a salad and garlic and Gruyere bread, I would have been more than happy just having the soup.

To me, Asheh Jo is more like a stew than a soup in terms on consistence since it's filled with lots of chunky ingredients and is not meant to be liquidy. Do not skip the step of shredding the beef in a food processor or blender. At first the meat was too tough and stringy, but shredding it solves all these problems. I was last minute in making this recipe and didn't have time to soak the beans overnight, so I used canned beans and it worked out fine. The lentils can be dry as that is plenty of time for them to cook. Don't skimp on the herbs either since they're a huge source of flavor. In my grocery store I can only get 1/2 cup chopped chives from one bunch, so make sure you have enough. Also, try not to be lazy and skip the garnish, the shallots add a great flavor! This soup is time consuming, but it is so delicious and makes a ton of soup, so you can easily freeze some and have some as leftovers.

Adapted from My Persian Kitchen
Serves 8-10
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 3 1/2 hours

1 lb stewing beef
salt and pepper (to season beef)
1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion
2 teaspoons turmeric
10 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup chickpeas (canned or dry)*
1/2 cup white beans (canned or dry)*
1/2 cup lentils
1/4 cup rice
1 1/2 cups barley
1 cup parsley, packed
1 cup cilantro, packed
1 cup dill, packed
1 cup chives, chopped
2 cups spinach
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

for the garnish:
6 shallots, chopped in rings
1 tablespoon oil
sour cream or plain yogurt

If using dry beans, the soak the chickpeas and white beans over night. Finely dice the onion and saute over medium/high heat in the oil until translucent. Add turmeric and stir. Season the pieces of meat with salt and pepper and add to the pot. Brown every side of the meat. Add the beans, lentils and chicken stock to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover, lower temperature and cook for one hour. Wash rice under running water, until water is clear. Add rice and barley to the pot and continue cooking covered for half an hour. Add the herbs, spinach and red pepper flakes. Continue cooking for another hour and a half, uncovered on the lowest heat setting. Taste the beans to make sure that they are cooked. If they are not, cook them longer. Add 1/2 cup of water at the time if necessary, but keep in mind you want this soup to thicken. Once the soup is ready, remove the pieces of meat from the pot and place them in a food processor/blender or mash them by hand. Add the meat back to the soup. For the garnish, heat up oil in a pan on low heat. Add the shallots and slowly cook them on low until browned. To serve, place soup in a bowl, add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and top with fried shallots (or even some more fresh chopped herbs).

*If using canned beans, rinse them before using them

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