In Turkey we like to think that it was Mrs Noah who first made the sweet soup called aşure (pronounced Ashuré). Across the world, millions, billions of women (and it is usually women) manage to prepare delicious feasts from next to nothing. So, it’s not too hard to imagine Mrs. Noah scrabbling around the ark’s kitchen cupboards, gathering the ingredients for the world’s first steaming pot of this important and very delicious dish.
Aşure has an ancient history
Noah’s Pudding, as aşure is otherwise known, is a sweet dish of pulses, grains, fruit, nuts, spices and lots of sugar.
In Turkey, as in other parts of the world, it is served during the first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram (Muharrem in Turkish), specifically on the Tenth Day of Muharrem, or the Day of Ashure. After Ramadan this is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. “Ashura” means “tenth” in Arabic. This is why aşure traditionally has ten ingredients.
This day is significant for several different reasons, depending on faith; ashuré is part of the culinary and religious heritage not only for Sunni Moslems but also for Alevis and Shia too. In many countries Christian and Jewish cultures also share similar versions under a variety of names. Click here for a more detailed explanation
Celebrating on Ararat
There is a legend that says when Noah’s Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, Noah’s family celebrated with a special dish.
Supplies were nearly exhausted, so the Noah family had to make something with what was left – mostly grains, dried fruits and so on.
Mrs Noah put all the ingredients into a big pot and boiled the lot to create a sweet and nutritious soup.
Now eaten all over the world
Although the dates vary, in Turkey this year, families and friends will celebrate Aşure Day from the sunset of Monday 10th October (many fasting throughout the day) and throughout Tuesday 11th October – but bowls of aşure are often served throughout the month of Muharram, which this year is from 1st to 31st October.
Like some much traditional Turkish food, making aşure is a social activity.
Traditionally it is usually the women who gather together to make aşure with relatives and close friends joining in. Although, if it falls on a weekend, there is no reason why men can’t help too.
Mothers teach their daughters how to make the perfect Aşure when they are young and in the old days families used to grow some of the ingredients themselves; buying the rest from local wholesalers.
Times are changing – today many go to the local supermarket and buy all the ingredients there. Aşure can also be bought ready made.
Be sure to use the largest pot…
Making ashuré is a time consuming process. The largest cauldron available is filled with water and placed over the heat; very often a picnic stove is used and if the weather is good the ritual takes place in the garden, or for town dwellers, on the balcony.
Essentially, this unchanging tradition is the making and sharing of aşure with friends and loved ones.
When the water is on a rolling boil in goes whole wheat, dried beans and chickpeas that have been soaking overnight.
The big blackened pot is stirred with an outsize wooden spoon and the mixture brought to a rolling boil – crucial for the perfect Aşure.
Kilos of sugar are then added – carefully. A quick taste – perhaps a little more is needed?
Orange peel, dried fruit and nuts are added to give the silky white mixture some pinpoints of colour.
Then it’s more stirring and more tasting: The result must be no less than perfection.
Sesame seeds are scattered over the boiling mixture and each woman adds a teaspoon of sugar as she makes a private wish.
Finally the Aşure is deemed ready and the delicate glass bowls are filled with the hot soupy mixture.
Jewel-like pomegranate seeds, more nuts and cinnamon are sprinkled and the Aşure is complete.
Those partaking all offer the traditional, polite and religious responses, ‘Mmm delicious,’ ‘eline sağlık,’ ‘Allah kabul etsin.’
A murmur of appreciation greets the women responsible for the food’s creation.
Aşure can be seen as one of the many traditions that continue to act as a bond for family members; each recipe with its own particular magic that it strengthens the attachment the women feel for their families, close friends and each other.
Perhaps the recipe and the ritual that goes with it could be used to positive effect the world over.
From an original story written by Jane Akatay and Özlem Özturk