Iranian noodle soup
As the weather turns cooler, the perennial question arises of what to feed my vegetarian friends when they come to dinner. Summer is easy – composed salads, grazing plates, light pastas – but as we move towards winter we often rely on the rich stews and braises that feed the meat eaters of the world. It’s then that I often turn to the wonderful food traditions of Persia.
Without a large expat community of Iranians in Australia, it seems that Iranian, or Persian, food doesn’t get much “airtime”. The cultural heritage is both rich and vast, spanning many centuries of traditions and having influence over Turkish, Middle Eastern and even Indian cuisines. I can often lose myself in the heady scents of rosewater, saffron, pomegranate and turmeric and romanticise about what life would be like in both ancient and modern Iran.
Iranian cuisine is a boon for hungry vegetarians. Beautiful, complex rice dishes, eggplant and tomato stews, split pea and rice faux meatballs – the recipes go on and on. However, my absolute favourite is this soup. Found across the country in slightly differing forms, and sometimes known as New Year soup, it is to me an almost miraculous one-pot wonder.
First, there is the ease of the ingredients. Sure, you can soak and cook the lentils, chickpeas and haricot beans separately. But there is a slightly naughty nuance to it because after work on a cold and dark afternoon, when you haven’t quite adjusted to the shortening days, you can belt into the local supermarket, collect the ingredients and go home and cook up this magical heartwarming soup.
Second, it is a very easy soup to make – there are not too many instructions for the tired post-work brain. You can even omit the steps of caramelising the second lot of onions for garnish, if you really can’t be bothered.
It’s when I sit at the table to eat the soup that I find it miraculous. From the simplicity of the ingredients to the simplicity of the recipe, the result is a rich and complex structure of flavours that evokes an intense feeling of being loved and nurtured.
Iranian noodle soup
– 4 onions
– 50ml olive oil
– 2 tsp ground turmeric
– 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
– 400g tin chickpeas, drained
– 400g tin small brown lentils, drained
– 400g tin haricot beans, drained
– 1 litre vegetable stock
– 40g butter
– 100g linguini
– 200g spinach
– 30g fresh parsley
– 20g fresh coriander
– 20g fresh mint
– 100ml plain yoghurt
Dice two of the onions. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat and fry the diced onions for five minutes, or until soft and pale golden in colour. Add the turmeric and garlic and cook for a further four minutes.
Add the chickpeas, lentils and haricot beans to the onions and pour in the stock. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Finely slice the other two onions. Place the butter in a non-stick frying pan over a low heat and melt gently. Fry the sliced onions for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are deeply caramelised.
When the beans have simmered for 30 minutes, add the linguini to the pot and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Roughly chop the spinach on a board, along with the parsley, coriander and mint.
Stir the spinach and herbs into the noodles and beans. Serve with the caramelised onions and a streak of yoghurt on top. If vegan, omit the yoghurt and add a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 25, 2019 as "Persian gulp". Subscribe here.