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Ash-e Anar / Pomegranate Soups

Ash-e Anar – Pomegranate Soup.

The Soup:

Every year with the arrival of spring, Persian celebrate the biggest holiday of the year – Nowruz (it literally means new day, but it refers to a new year). With tribute to the recent celebration of Nowruz, I am featuring a Persian soup. Typically for Nowruz,Persians feast on a soup called Ash-e Reshteh (Persian Noodle Soup). Eating the noodle soup in the new year is said to bring good fortune and success. Yet, I have a particular fondness for Ash-e Anar (Pomegranate Soup), as it is one of my favorite dishes of all time. Persian food is vibrantly colored and has many layers of flavor. The cuisine makes use of a lot of different spices, herbs and fruits (both dried and fresh) including dates, cherries, persimmons, raisins, quince, prunes and plums. The pomegranate is also used widely in Persian cuisine for different types dishes such as Khoresht Fesenjaan (Pomegranate and Walnut Stew).

Ash-e Anar brings together garlic, onion, yellow split peas, beets, pomegranates, pomegranate molasses, oil, herbs, spices and for those meat eaters ground meat (in my house we use ground turkey). It is not only hearty but very warming. The flavors are of sweetness and sour all in one bite.

All ingredients combined make for an extremely healthy soup. On its own, the innumerable offerings of the pomegranate include vitamins A, C, E and folic acid. It is best known for its benefits related to promoting heart health, dental care, and blood circulation. It also combats digestive problems, anemia, cancer, and diabetes.

Making this soup can be somewhat labor intensive, but like many other soups, the divine taste is worth all the effort.

What you will need:

  • A pot ( I prefer cast iron pots, but I find stainless steel works well too).
  • A strainer to clean rice and to clean the split peas.
  • A chopper or a very good vegetable chopping knife.
  • A glass bowl to mix ingredients for the meat.
  • Measuring cups.
  • Measuring spoons.

Ingredients:

  • 3 onions (2 chopped) (1 grated and left to the side)
  • 6 cloves of garlic ( depending on how much garlic you like – add more or less)
  • 1/2 cup yellow split peas
  • 2 cups chopped fresh parsley (or 1/2 cup dried)
  • 2 cups chopped fresh cilantro (or 1/2 cup dried)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh mint (or 1/4 cup dried)
  • 2 cups chopped fresh chives/scallions/leeks (or 1/2 cup dried)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh spinach (or 1 cup frozen)
  • 2 medium beets, peeled and cubed (depending on how much you like beets – add more or less)
  • 1 lb. ground meat (beef, turkey, lamb)
  • 1 cup dry rice (white or brown)
  • 2/3 cups pomegranate paste diluted in 2 cups of water or 4 cups pomegranate juice
  • 2 tablespoons angelica seeds or powder (available at specialty stores)
  • 1 teaspoon Turmeric
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or honey (optional)
  • 10-12 cups water

Garnish:

  • Pomegranate seeds (if in season)
  • Fresh Chopped Herbs (cilantro, mint, chives).

Instructions:

  1. Saute the 3 chopped onions and garlic with olive oil, a teaspoon of turmeric, as well as salt and pepper( to your liking).
  2. Add 10 cups of water/broth and yellow split peas. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let it simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes.
  3. Add all the chopped herbs (parsley, cilantro, mint and chives), the cubed beets and continue to cook for 20 more minutes. Make sure heat is not too high. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking to the pot.
  4. In a separate bowl prepare your meat. Add the extra grated onion to the meat with some salt and pepper(to your liking). I usually add an extra clove or two of minced garlic as well.Mix the ingredients well and make chestnut-sized meatballs. Add the meatballs, one by one to the pot.
  5. (It is important to check on the split peas before taking the step. Often if the peas haven’t cooked properly it is best to let them cook longer as adding rice deters the cooking of the split peas).  Add rice and cook for 30 minutes longer.
  6. Stir in the pomegranate paste, angelica powder and simmer over LOW HEAT for 30 minutes. (If you find that the taste is too sour, it is possible to ration in some sugar or honey- although I usually like the sour).
  7. Check the meatball and peas to make sure they are cooked. You can adjust the flavor of the seasoning. The taste should be sweet and sour.
  8. I usually add the fresh spinach last since I don’t like for spinach to overcook and lose it’s nutrients. You can also add frozen spinach. Spinach doesn’t need more than a couple minutes.
  9. Add water if the soup is too thick.
  10. When serving one can garnish the top with fresh pomegranate seeds and the chopped fresh herbs.

Story Behind the Soup:

The City of Angels is a place that I have always loved to hate.

It is the city of my birth and my childhood, yet I have always struggled to call it home. Of all the places I have lived, I always favored it the least. In reality, Los Angeles has never done me any real harm. Despite having repeatedly abandoned it for somewhere better, it has always warmly welcomed me back. Ultimately, it’s been nothing more than a backdrop, although not entirely idealistic, for my long-lasting challenge to bridge the gap between the country of my birth and the blood of my ancestry.

Like many Angelenos, I belong to one of the many sizable ethnic contingents inhabiting the Southland. Los Angeles is better known to me as Tehrangeles, a locale where an overwhelmingly large community of Persians landed after the Iranian Revolution. There are enclaves located throughout Southern California, yet they are headquartered in Beverly Hills/West Los Angeles. Despite a mass exodus of Persians from Iran, Iran will never be taken out of the people. They have taken the town by storm and have created a formidable subculture. Whether they need to shop, visit the doctor, take a driving test or become a US citizen, the Iranians in Los Angeles are able to do so in their native Farsi.

Like an episode of National Geographic, last spring I witnessed thousands of bee swarm a tree in front of our house. It was awe-inspiring. As they took over our front yard for the next few days,  I was partly fearful, as I am allergic to bee stings, but mostly amazed of how tightly they clung together and formed their community.

As marveled over bees, I couldn’t help to think of the Persians in Los Angeles. They are oddly reminiscent of a large colony of bees that have swarmed a tree and cluster tightly together to form their hive, generating a stir to the environment around them. Like the worker bees, some keep very busy buzzing about town and much like the drones, others do nothing at all. They also move about with their stingers in tow and aren’t opposed to sticking it to someone, even their own kind. Of course, at the center, is not one but multiple “queen bees”. The others defer to the queens and strive to emulate them. Unlike the swarm of bees, however, the Persians will not be relocating elsewhere anytime soon.

Life inside the hive was always somewhat unsettling for me. Although I looked like a “bee”, as well as shared the same history, traditions and experiences as the others, I certainly didn’t feel like a devoted member. I often felt as if I had been misplaced in the wrong habitat and dreamed of fleeing. To me, life within the community was clamorous and shambolic.

 

Take for example Elat Market, a local Persian grocery store in LA – a true slice of the culture. When going into the store it’s important to have a pair of boxing gloves on hand, as it can be each man for himself. It can also be somewhat deceiving, at first glance, as a large portion of the shoppers are elderly. Yet, they are often the deadliest, especially the women, who take no prisoners. After claiming a shopping cart, one needs to weave through the store dodging others, who disregard anyone who wants to come in their direction. Shopping carts are usually lined up to one side the aisles because there is not enough room to navigate with them. People gather around the mounds of fruits and vegetables, picking through the produce where it’s possible for a quarrel or two to break out over something as simple as a cucumber. Then again, it is very much a social center, with Persian music blasting out of one corner of the store, and where shoppers will stop dead center of an already-cramped aisle to joyfully embrace and get into a lively conversation. It’s no place to go in a hurry, as Persians tend to move to the tick tock of their own clock. Their clock is usually set 2-3 hours behind Pacific Standard Time.

Whether it is in or out of the market, the concept of “boundaries”, both physical and emotional, is completely foreign. Persians do not have much of a filter. They will say what they think or feel with little regard for how it might affect or upset others. They have an opinion for everything and will give it, solicited or not. They are masters of giving guilt. It’s like crossing an emotional minefield with explosives that constantly detonate. Persians are typically an animated bunch, who are no strangers to demonstrating a range of intense emotions with very little volume control. It is also a community based on competition and appearances, giving the Jones’ a run for their money. Unforgivingly, at the center, is the rumor mill, that never seems to be out of order but always cranking out new gossip.

Living in the community, albeit welcoming, was like sitting next to a fantastically inviting swimming pool, where I was only able to dangle my feet in the water but not able to full submerge myself and swim. Growing up there I always longed to blend in and just be the girl next door — someone I could never ultimately be. My skin was always too dark, my hair too thick and curly, my parents’ accents too thick and our culture too different.

I would frequently be asked about my background. I usually say Persian, although it’s common for people use Persian and Iranian interchangeably. A recurrent reply to telling someone I am Persian was, “oh Persia, I would love to visit that country one day”. While talking to others about Iran, for their lack of better knowledge of the culture or other things to discuss, conversation would inevitably steer towards the Iranian Revolution, the oppression of women and Anti-Americanism. In all my frustration, I began to reject my heritage rather than embrace and illuminate it, for what it is.

After a lengthy absence, I was beckoned back by the City of Angels and unexpectedly started my family there, near the Persian hive before we would move back across the country to Honey Hollow Farm, of all places. I would have never predicted such a return to Los Angeles.  Gradually I made peace with my experiences and surroundings.

I now do my best to illustrate, to my children, the beauty of being Persian.

Much like my beloved Ash-e Anar, the culture is full of color, texture and dynamic flavors. It has a vibrant aesthetic and is fascinating to experience. It is among the richest of ethnicities: the history, the literature, the philosophers, the food, the architecture, the antiques, and of course the people.

The people are undeniably fiery. They are kaleidoscopic, covering all the colors of the rainbow, including the hues in between. They love and live to gather together for any occasion or for none at all. They constantly celebrate life: eating, dancing, socializing, laughing, story telling, and building families. They are incredibly hospitable and will never let anyone leave their homes on an empty belly. They are impassioned in all they do, not the least of which is how they love. They unabashedly wear their hearts on their sleeves. They are generous with their devotion, perhaps, to a fault. In the name of love, they often project their own hopes and wishes onto others. They are prepared to defend that which they hold dear and do so fiercely. They don’t abandon those they truly care for, especially in real moments of need. They will go to any and all lengths to help with such dedication, forgoing their own needs. It is when they are at their best and demonstrate such overwhelming magnificence as a solid phalanx.

The bevy of boisterous bees – they are always there, with or without an invitation, typically late, usually with food and an earful of opinions to give, but never without their overflowing hearts.

It is a sweet reminder of what it means to be home, no matter where I am.

Layla

Layla hopes to guide and support individuals to becoming happier and healthier versions of themselves by exploring their connections with self, nourishment and whole body alignment.

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