A sweet-and-sour fruit soup from Iran makes for a comforting one-pot meal.
Soup, known as āsh in Farsi, is such a prominent part of Persian cuisine that the Farsi word for “cook” is āshpaz, meaning “soup-maker.” Typically, āsh is cooked with lentils, meat, and vegetables, and abundantly garnished with herbs. Āsh-e miveh, also called osh-e miveh, differs from these standard preparations by combining generous amounts of fruit with a tangy acid, such as vinegar or lime, to make a uniquely sweet-and-sour delicacy.
Āsh is a thick soup, like a potage, not to be confused with abgoosht, which is of thinner consistency. Persian food historians uncovered more than 50 varieties of āsh in accounts of the culinary activity of the 16th century Safavid court. The key element separating āsh-e miveh is the use of different kinds of fruit. Dried fruit, especially prunes and apricots, is the most common, though some recipes call for fresh peaches, plums, and nectarines. Sometimes meatballs are added to give more heft.
The base for āsh-e miveh is typically a stew of caramelized onions simmered with yellow split peas or other lentils, and seasoned liberally with a variety of herbs and some turmeric. Greens go into the pot, followed, optionally, by meatballs (lamb or beef is common, but chicken is also used). A starch—such as rice, or Persian soup noodles known as reshteh—is typically added to the simmering āsh to thicken it. Then comes the fruit. To heighten the sweetness and tang in the soup, many cooks add sugar and lemon juice (or limoo omani, dried lime). Others, such as Iranian-American chef Najmieh Batmanglij, use grape molasses and red wine to amplify the tanginess of their āsh. The na’na dagh, or garnish, at the very end, is crucial. Batmanglij makes hers with onions and garlic fried to a crisp in hot oil, seasoned with dried mint flakes, with a sprinkle of turmeric for color. The sweet and sour complexity of this hearty, one-pot meal makes the long, slow labor of cooking it well worth the effort.