Persian Plum Soup with Fried Mint Topping (ash-e aloocheh)
Hello there my lovely friends! How about a vegetarian Persian plum soup recipe today? Did I hear yes? I think I did hear a few of you who had “liked” the picture on the social media but I hope you will give it a try even if you hadn’t. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Most classic Persian soups are satisfying meals on their own. Like minestrone they are usually chock full of vegetables, herbs and green leaves, legumes and grains. Cooking ash (a is pronounced as in art) is so important in Persian cuisine that a professional cook is actually called ashpaz “one who cooks soups” and the general word for cooking is ashpazi.
Our most popular thick soup is probably ash reshteh (noodle and beans soup), pictured below. It’s cooked both for everyday meals and for special occasions. It can be on the menu of restaurants or sold in roadside huts in snowy mountain roads.
Egg-drop soups (eshkaneh/eshkeneh) are of a different category. They are quick to make and usually require very few ingredients. My favourite is the one made with onions, dried mint, turmeric and eggs of course. It’s my go to on a cold day when I need something quick, filling and warming. I love to soak torn flatbread in the soup and have it with vinegary vegetable pickles.
Most Persian soups are vegetarian or even vegan. Adding meat, chicken or stock is usually a choice, not a requirement. My plum soup is also completely vegetable-based but one can make it with stock too. Plum soup is thickened with rice and takes its flavour from caramelised onions, turmeric and herbs.
I make this soup with whatever kind of fresh plums I happen to have. In early summer I make it with foraged plums (the tiny sour ones), damsons or greengages. Sweet and sour, more on the sour side, is the characteristic flavour of many Persian dishes. I may balance the flavour of the soup with a little sugar if the plums I’m using are too sour. If they aren’t sour enough I add a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon juice.
You don’t need to completely puree the plums. Some bits will add texture to the soup. And the herbs don’t need to be chopped too finely either. It’s nicer when the soup is a bit chunky. You can see what you should be looking for in the pictures below.
One last thing: Fried mint topping is very often used to garnish soups but it’s much more than a garnish. Fried dried mint adds a lot of flavour to soups and helps with digestion. Combining ingredients in certain ways to help maintain good health is one of basic skills a Persian cook needs to have.
According to principles handed down for generations Persian cooks divide ingredients into two major categories, those that are “hot” and others that are “cold”. Plums like most other stone fruit are considered as “cold”. They can cause indigestion and wind. Mint, on the other hand, is a rather “hot” ingredient. So the topping of this soup balances the “coldness” of the plums.
You can read more about “hot and cold” in Persian cooking and ancient medical lore in The Hot and Cold Secrets of the Persian Kitchen by Tori Egherman in Global Voices to which I made a little contribution.
Ingredients to serve four to six persons:
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp oil (rapeseed, olive or vegetable oil)
- 11/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 litres boiling water
- 120g Persian, pudding or arborio rice, rinsed in a sieve
- 120g yellow lentils (split peas), parboiled and rinsed
- 3/4 tsp salt
- Pinch of ground black pepper
- 500g fresh plums or greengages
- 250g fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
- 80g coriander, roughly chopped
- 80g parsley, roughly chopped
- Sugar, lemon juice (to adjust the flavour if necessary)
For the topping:
- 2 tbsp dried mint
- 4 tbsp oil (rapeseed, olive or vegetable oil)
- Put the chopped onion in a saucepan and add the oil. Sauté on medium-low heat until it’s golden brown. This may take as long as fifteen minutes but the slower you cook the onion, the better it will be.
- Add the turmeric and stir. Cook, stirring until you can smell the turmeric.
- Add the boiling water and all the rest of the ingredients (except the topping ingredients) to the saucepan. Simmer for 45 minutes or until the rice is completely cooked and thickened the soup and the lentils are soft. Stir from time to time so it doesn’t catch in the bottom.
- This soup should be medium thick. If necessary, add a little boiling water to dilute or simmer the soup longer to make it thicker. Adjust the seasoning and if the soup is too sour for your liking, add a pinch of sugar. Let the soup simmer while you are preparing the topping.
- Heat the oil in the smallest saucepan that you have over medium-low heat. Throw in the dried mint and stir. Cook for a few seconds or until the mint becomes fragrant. Dried mint burns very quickly so remove from the heat as soon as it’s fragrant.
- Ladle the soup into serving bowls and add a little fried mint to each serving. Enjoy!