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My Granny's Aash-e Sholeh Qalamkar


By Syma Sayyah, Tehran

Along with my sister Sohaila, I was brought up by my grandmother who was the head of her family, and in those days, once a year, the family would all come over to our house and stay over while we cooked aash-e sholeh qalamkar in a huge pot, which was large enough to comfortably hold a couple of the kids!

Aash-e sholeh qalamkar is a very tasty and nourishing type of soup and it is a little bit spicy as it has a lot of tarragon and marzeh (summer savory) plus extra pepper to taste.  The recipe includes beef, several types of herbs, beans, and rice.  It was exciting as well as scary.  It is important that the mixture is stirred all the time it is cooking.  Members of the family, our friends and our neighbors would all come and take their turns stirring all night long while murmuring their general wishes about good health and happiness for the family.


What we loved about it was that the elders left all us kids alone and we had a great time running around and playing hide and seek together until we all dropped off to sleep.  As I grew older I stayed up a little bit later and helped with taking care of the guests, serving tea or bringing cold water as it may be and eventually I had my own wishes to make, like passing exams and getting this or that (wasn't life simple in those days!).

Around 2 or 3 in the morning the aash would be almost ready and then the chief cook or whoever was in charge would order the lid to be put on so that the aash would simmer for a few more hours to finish off. We would put a huge round tray which was filled with mud on the lid so that those present could light their candles and make their serious and special wishes, and hope that the good spirits would help make these wishes come true.  They would vow that if they did, they would make a contribution towards the aash cooking the following year.

At times I remember that there were so many candles being lit that our little yard would be bright as day - it was so magical and so beautiful.  When I look back I remember the beautiful face of my darling granny whose kindness and gentleness was so great and despite the turmoil that rocked our family she managed to bring them all together on such occasions.

I have cherished her goodness and these memories throughout my life and carry on the tradition, but in my own strange way.  I do believe in keeping the good customs and traditions yet we must tailor them according to our lives and our time.  So last Monday night, I invited many friends and some family to come and join us to cook this aash.  I could not have done this without the great orchestration and management of my dear friend Tahareh and her good husband Abbas who are always there to help me out like earthly guardian angels.

We started about 7.00 p.m. in the garden by setting up the large pot and huge cooker.  It was pretty cold but our spirits were high and people, as they arrived, helped with the stirring and then went up to the kitchen to help themselves to food and salad.  There was tea brewing all night along and, as we waited to the aash to cook, some of us watched the film Slumdog Millionaire, which had won the Oscars the day before, while others stayed by the pot and continued the long process of stirring.  Through the steam I could feel my granny watching me and approving in her own way!

By 2.00 a.m. most people had headed home and in the morning we ladled the aash into plastic containers ready to be delivered or picked up.

All night long I felt my granny, whose spirit is overlooking me from high above was present with her soft gentle and magical smile.  We had a great time keeping this tradition of my granny's family alive and I do hope that you can find something that keeps your own family traditions back in the limelight.  By doing the things that we cherish in our own way, which suits our way of life and time, we keep our traditions alive and make all those who are with us even if they are not around us happy and proud of being Iranian.

Our recipe  for the aash included 7 kilos of lamb, 7 kilos of fried onions, 44 kilos sabsi (tarragon, dill, parsley, marzeh (savory) coriander, leeks, spinach) plus 12 kilos of  different pre-cooked beans, mash (mung beans),  adas (lentils),  lubia chiti (kidney beans),  nokhod (chickpeas),  lubia ghermez (red beans), 2 kilos rice, 2 kilos crushed barley, plus turmeric, salt and pepper.  Cook for 12 hours.  Serves 250 or more!

We have a few pictures for you to share, jaaye shoma khali (your places were empty).

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