Glorious Green - Recipe For Persian Pistachio Soup
Updated: Mar 23
When I was 7 I went to Iran for the first and only time. I remember everything so vividly. The bazaars of Tehran and Isfahan filled with burlap sacks of slivered almonds and barberries. Apothecaries carrying a variety of flower essences, most popular of course being the Persian rose. I remember that everything I had was so strangely unfamiliar. Not a single thing tasted as it did back home. I would stand stupefied in the middle of bustling markets after tasting a dried apricot or a handful of golden raisins gifted to me by a friendly merchant. Both from the shock of flavors that were so overwhelmingly beyond palate & thought, as were the oversaturated gestures of kindness and warmth that each Iranian exhumed. Even a tomato is not a tomato in Iran, but the best tomato you have ever tasted in your life. You couldn't imagine how unbelievable sweet they are; a thin supple flesh unlocking what I can only describe as the universe in a succulent morsel. If the shop keep catches you romanticizing over the fruit for too long, they would gift you the entire vine through customary kindness.
The soul that carries every Iranian, the spirit that lights every family, the anchor that captures every story, is nourished through pillows of perfect basmati rice, and the romantic intoxication of stews sauntering their aromas through homes. A tribal affair of spices, herbs and secrets that forever make our cuisine a love language that we all in some capacity can speak. We may not agree on religion or politics, but we all agree that kabob is king, or more fairly, the soaking soppy bread under it. Or that glorious liquid from the remains of Shirazi salad (cucumbers, tomatoes and onions dressed in freshly squeezed lime juice) might as well be melted down gold that we shamelessly sip from the sides of the bowl. I didn't realize it then, there in my youth, in the bustling streets of Iran, that I was in fact, for the first and only time in my life, truly home. A postponed sense of belonging.
I instead, complained - a lot. My father and I took a taxi one day from one of the Mosques in Esfahan to go see the Khaju Bridge which separates the Khaju and Zoroastrian quarter in what was once the capital of the Persian empire. Sat within the Zayanderud river, the warren stones of the bridge, featured with countless sluices to help irrigate and control the water flow of the opposing banks, was the social center of the city. Since the 1650's, the bridge was home to Persian picnics, evening strolls, modest dates, crowds of men congregating to sing and whale within its arches (or likely complain about their wives in secret), stoops and bricks to sit upon while one threw their feet in the tranquil river, and home to some of the most beautiful tile made art in the world. It was my favourite place in all of Iran.
Before we arrived, as we were stopped at a red light in the taxi, a gentlemen tapped on our window, and a brief exchange happened between the stranger and my father (money was involved), before he handed me over a paper bag filled with what I only then could describe as "small fuzzy eggs." I examined the item which my father gave a name to that seemed unfamiliar (my farsi was not great, so many things made no sense to me). I tried digging my fingers into the flesh, I was an anxious child who bit his nails, so I made no headway in discovery. I grappled with it while we got out of the taxi and walked across the Khaju bridge. We finally stepped down next to one of the sluices on the hard polished stones that were often covered entirely by the river water. I placed the egg on the stone and smashed it with the palm of my hand. I found a small parcel inside, I peeled back the flesh frantically, and found but a single raw pistachio kernel with its shell inside. Glorious green, a deep rich color and an aroma between fresh cut grass and rain water. I then, before even trying to break into the kernel, threw the entire thing into the river out of frustration. I thought, how stupid must someone be to put this much effort into retrieving a single kernel of pistachio? What a waste of life and time I snarred. I asked my dad why we didn't just buy the ones that were peeled? I thought him crazy for commiting to the effort of harvesting a whole bag of these things that he bought from a stranger on the street, as we were stopped at a red light on our way to hang out on some bridge in the middle of nowhere? What seemed like a borderline drug deal was for some fresh nuts? This whole place seemed strange - nonsensical.
What they do not tell you when you're 7 years old in Iran, is that you are walking amongst history and culture that dates back to 8000 BCE. That you are interacting through customs that have had hundreds of cultures influence them. That you are using a language over 7500 years old, contrived through literature and poetry beyond beautiful refute. A country that is presently surrounded by 7 other countries that share its borders. Borders that hold immersive cultural provinces between Iran and the compliments of places such as Iraq, Turkey, Armenia and Afghanistan. For lack of a better term, they do not tell you to not be a little shit. They rollick their traditions and customs without apology, they bravely stand behind their rituals of endless tea and luxurious foods. They humbly marvel at the beautiful, colored tiles of mosques, bazaars and warren spaces. They exhume love and openness without falter, without being familiar. They are beautiful, and exaggerated; and how proud I am of that now. This soup is an apology, for all things I overlooked through my youth, and an incredibly small acknowledgement of the history and romance in my culture that without, I would be otherwise feel lost. The greatest gifts are often the hardest to retrieve.
Just a few things before you start cooking...
- Do not compromise. Certain recipes ask for certain ingredients, give the dish the chance it deserves, try to curate these few items as best as you can. - Sometimes the simple things are the most difficult. There are a handful of ingredients, they're easy to prepare and the dish could be ready in less than 30 minutes. Don't sleep on it, be present.
- Get inventive. The soup is the base point for the dish. Get excited about making garnishes. Soak raisins in orange juice, add some orange blossom water, go wild. The gift in this soup is versititly, give it your signature with garnishes.
- Sweat, not sauté. Lower the temperature of your pot if your vegetables are gathering any color. You want to sweat everything slowly and avoid getting any color or caramelizing so that soup doesn't inherit any unnecessary sweetness, or lose any of its natural colors.
Recipe For "Ausheh Pesteh" - Persian Pistachio Soup
- 400g Pistachio Kernels, whole, raw
- 240g Shallot, sliced thin
- 100g Fennel, sliced thin
- 80g Leek, white part only, sliced thin
- 40g Galangal, peeled, sliced thin
- 20g Ginger, peeled, sliced thin
- 8g Green Cardamom, whole
- 14g White Cardamom, whole
- 2g White Peppercorns, whole
- 300g Spinach Leaves
- 2.4L Chicken Stock
- 5ml Rose Water
- 50ml Olive Oil
- Kosher Salt, to taste
- Golden Raisins
- Orange Slices For Squeezing
- A Dollop of Mascarpone or Crème Fraîche
- Fresh Picked Mint Leaves or Anise Hyssop
- All of the above
- In a heavy base pot, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add sliced shallots, galangal, ginger, fennel and a pinch of kosher salt. Sweat slowly to soften the vegetables for 5 minutes. The salt helps pull moisture from the vegetables to assure they don't caramelize too quickly.
- Add green cardamom, white cardamom, & white peppercorns, and sweat for another 2 minutes until the spices become fragrant.
- Add pistachio kernels and sweat slowly for 3 more minutes until the kernels are bright green.
- Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once at a simmer, let the pistachio kernels soften for 8-10 minutes.
- Once kernels are softened, cut the heat under the pot. Set up a blender, and carefully using a ladle, add the contents of the pot into the blender with even amounts of broth, vegetables and pistachio kernels.
- Add spinach leaves to the blender, and process the ingredients on high for 2-4 minutes depending on your blender. Do this in small batches to assure you get the smoothest, most even result.
- Pass the blended pistachio soup through a sieve or fine strainer and discard any residual pulp that doesn't pass through. Season with kosher salt to taste.
- Serve immediately topped with varied garnishes.