Aşure: Dessert as old as the ARK…

                     My ‘aşure’ or ‘Noah’s pudding’

If I could make a meal out of just dessert, I would.  My favorite food of all time is ice cream, and I can eat it any time of day…enough said.  Aşure (pronounced a- shure-ey) however is in another realm all together.  This isn’t just a dessert, it’s an entire cultural experience that transports you through history and brings people of all backgrounds together. To me, the taste reminds me of the taste of the holidays.  Just looking at the ingredients though, you might at first glance find it a bit strange.  It’s essentially a pudding but it’s ingredients include barley, beans, and chickpeas.  This is also something I never thought I would learn how to make as there’s no set recipe for it- it varies literally household to household.  But I did learn and I brought it to work to share last week and got pretty good feedback!  One colleague actually said that after making this I had proven myself as a true Turkish lady…a compliment I valued highly!

Aşure is a very important and special dish with a complex history, significant to many countries and cultures.  Here in Turkey, it’s usually translated into English as ‘Noah’s Pudding’…yes Noah, like of the Ark.  According to beliefs, this dessert is the actual dish that Noah himself made with all the leftover ingredients remaining on the ark when they landed on Mount Ararat to celebrate that they had safely made it through the flood.  This is often argued to be the ‘oldest dessert in the world’.  It’s also important as this dish is prepared and eaten during ‘Muharrem’ which is the first month of the Islamic calendar.  ‘Aşüre günü’, or the ‘day of aşure’, (in Turkish) apparently means ‘tenth day’ (Ashura) in Arabic and also represents the day that Moses led his people out of Egypt.

When this dish is prepared, it’s made in HUGE quantities and shared with the whole neighborhood.  It’s a truly special event.  It brings everyone together through eating and through celebrating the tradition of people (usually grandmothers) cooking this through generations.  The idea is that in making this, you also share it with family, friends, and neighbors.  It began as a tradition for making it and giving it to people in need due to it’s filling and healthy ingredients, a charitable dish that is still today made for the purpose of sharing what you have. When I was trying to learn how to make it, all of my friends told me that their grandmother or their great-aunt was the only person who knew how to make it.  It’s a dish that has to be taught and passed down lovingly.

I’ve been in Istanbul for over 5 years now, and I have grown to love and adore aşure, but that wasn’t always the case.  I remember the first time someone told me about it and described it to me as a cold pudding with nuts, beans, wheat, and chickpeas…it was definitely not something I ran out to try.  I was honestly a bit scared of it.  Here’s the thing, when you describe it with the actual ingredients it seems insane.  It seems like you are throwing everything in the kitchen together and that it will NOT work…BUT…it DOES work! However different the ingredients might be, the end result is like a cross-over between a tapioca-esque rice pudding and a fruity cold oatmeal.  The additions of cinnamon, clove, vanilla and orange taste exactly like the holiday season to me and the perfect holiday pudding.  It’s fruity, sweet, rich, creamy, fresh, a bit spicy, and full of texture.

The aşure from my neighbors

This year, for the first time since I moved to Turkey, my neighbors brought aşure!  I recently moved into a more family oriented apartment complex where the neighbors take the time to get to know everyone, and when they brought over the aşure I was beyond touched.  I was so happy to be included…and then…slowly…the panic set in!  They gave us the aşure in fancy bowls.  Ok- in Turkish culture, when someone brings you food on their own nice plates, it is customary to return their plate back to them, but it should be full of something you make for them.  The pressure was on!  I still hadn’t attempted aşure yet, so I whipped up a batch of pumpkin muffins (something they don’t eat here, so it was still ‘traditional’) and ran it upstairs.  I would say though that this event sparked the desire to finally conquer the aşure recipe and take part in this special ritual of making and giving.


Aşure from Kanaat Restaurant

Aşure traditionally is made from barley, white beans, chickpeas, different dried fruits and different nuts, sometimes rose-water, sometimes adding milk… it’s rumoured to have as many as 19 different ingredients.  Every person makes their own version of the recipes according to taste and preference.  There are a few tricks that I learned by asking around.  My recipe was something I put together by asking many friends and getting advice from friends’ grandmothers and searching for translations online.  It was very difficult to figure out exactly how to get the ratios correct.  In the end, surprisingly, it turned out exactly as I wanted it to and exactly how I like to eat it.

My great-grandmother, Mary Ella, lived until I was 21 years old.  She was one of the most special people on the planet.  Every year for Christmas she used to sit and scoop out a million oranges, making her signature ‘ambrosia’.  Her version of it was a kind of holiday fruit salad.  It was fresh, tangy, and to me, the embodiment of the holidays.  It took her days sometimes to put it together and in the end there was enough for the household of at times 20 of us traipsing in and out.  I can’t explain it, but the taste of aşure has a similar taste to my great-grandmother’s ambrosia.  The first time I had a spoonful of the pudding, I remember feeling shocked and overwhelmed…and a bit emotional.  The taste of the aşure was something so comforting to me.  Maybe this is why I’m so drawn to this dessert, being that it not only tastes similar but I know it’s a similar style of traditional recipe-one that takes time and effort, but produces memories and love for years to come.  Aşure may not be your typical pudding, but it might be the most special one you will ever eat.

Recipe and ‘How TO’ Below:

Making aşure takes time-start doing it over the weekend or prepare everything the night before.  It makes A LOT, and it will keep in the fridge for a long time as well, so the hard work and time is worth it in the end.  My one recipe made 3 large casserole dishes (9×13).  This would probably make 15-20 individual serving bowls.  I made this also according to my taste preferences.  I did not use chickpeas, and I used only almonds.  You could use chickpeas (in that case, use 1/2 cup and decrease the barley) and you could use walnuts, hazelnuts, or pecans instead of almonds.  Figs are usually added traditionally but I didn’t use them because I don’t like how mushy they become.  You could add whatever dried fruit you like.  

*1 and 1/2 cups hulled barley    *1 cup white navy beans     *3/4 cup white rice
*2 and 1/2 cups sugar    *1 medium orange    *2 tsp. vanilla extract *2 cinnamon sticks
*a spoonful of whole cloves   *2 cups raw almonds  *20 dried apricots  *2 cups raisins
*1/2 cup dried red currants      *2 T. flour, or cornstarch  *1 tsp. salt
*ground cinnamon for topping
*pomegranate seeds for topping

The night before:  In separate bowls, soak the barley, the white beans, the dried apricots, red currants, raisins, and almonds in warm water.

The day of: 1) Cook the barley (cover it with water-3 fingers width height water above the                           barley- bring it to a boil, then reduce to low and cook for 1 hour.)
2) Separately cook the navy beans (they only take about 30 minutes).
3)slice the almonds and slice the apricots

-Bring them off the heat and put them together.  Add new water to fill the pot just above the barley and beans, throw the rice in here.  Zest and juice the orange and add this.  Let come to a boil and then let this cook until it thickens (about 30 minutes on low).

-Put the cinnamon sticks and cloves in a bowl and pour 1 cup of boiling water over them and let them sit for 5 minutes, then add this water to the barley mixture.  Add in the vanilla.  Add in the salt.   Bring it back to a boil, then turn it back down the low.

-Add the dried nuts and fruit last.  Bring it back to a boil, then cover and turn to low.

Once most of the water has evaporated, but it’s still liquid, add 2 Tablespoons flour or cornstarch.  Bring it back to a boil again and reduce to low.  When you are able to rest a spoon on the top of it and the spoon doesn’t sink, you know it’s ready to be poured.

-Pour it into serving dishes, let it set, and then decorate.  I decorated with cinnamon, pomegranate seeds, the remaining cup of almonds, and leftover apricots.  You could also add ground pistachios, cocoa powder, and dried coconut.  Refrigerate and enjoy !!