Ash-e Reshteh (Iranian Noodle Soup)

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Norooz, or Iranian New Year, means a few things: joyous gatherings with family, spring cleaning, and the celebration of the vernal equinox. Norooz is also about food: fresh fish, rice pilafs and frittatas redolent with herbs and spring greens to celebrate renewal and rebirth, desserts to ring in a sweet new year, and my favorite: ash-e reshteh.

Ash-e reshteh is traditionally served on the new year, with the noodles symbolizing good fortune. My mom’s ash-e reshteh is my favorite and this year, I finally learned how to cook it. Chock-full of reshteh (special Iranian noodles), kashk (a fermented dairy product similar to whey), loads of herbs like parsley, spinach, and green onions, legumes, dried mint, and garlic, there’s no substituting here. Get thee to an Iranian grocery and make this delicious, meal-in-a-bowl soup to celebrate the coming of warmer weather and new beginnings.

Ash-e Reshteh (Iranian Noodle Soup)

Ingredients:

6 tablespoons olive oil
4 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, cooked, and cooled
10-12 cups water
1 cup lentils, cooked and cooled
1 pound Iranian noodles (reshteh)
1 tablespoon flour
2 bunches chopped green onions
2 bunches chopped parsley
2 pounds chopped spinach
1 1/2 cups liquid kashk
4 tablespoons dried mint, crushed

1. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large pot and sautee the onions and garlic over medium heat. Add salt, pepper, and turmeric. Once golden, set aside 1/3 of onion mixture for garnish. Leave the remaining onion mixture in the pot and add lentils and chickpeas; saute for a few minutes. In the meantime, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a separate small saucepan and once hot, add the dried mint and quickly saute for 1 minute, being careful not to let it burn. Remove from heat and set aside for garnish.

2. Pour in 10 cups of water and bring to a boil, then add all of the greens, bring to a boil again, reduce the heat, and cook on low, covered, for about half an hour, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the noodles to the pot and cook for about 15 minutes, covered, on low heat, stirring occasionally. At this stage, add one teaspoon of the reserved dried mint oil garnish to the pot.

4. In the meantime, mix 1 cup cold water and the flour in a small bowl and drizzle the mixture into the pot of soup, stirring. Cook for 20 minutes, covered, on low heat, stirring occasionally.

5. Stir in the kaskh, setting aside a dollop or two for the garnish. Mix the kaskh in the pot well.

6. To serve, pour the hot soup into a serving bowl and garnish with the reserved onion and garlic mixture, reserved dried mint mixture, and reserved kashk.

Turkey Meatball and Noodle Soup

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I love Asian-style meatballs. You know, the fish balls or meat balls you often find in noodle soups. They’re delicious. But if you’ve ever seen them at the market, the pre-packaged kind are also full of preservatives. In this soup, I made the meatballs from scratch, using grass-fed turkey and the results were better than the store-bought version. A chicken stock base and a drizzle of chili oil lends flavor to a hearty soup that’s perfect in January.

Turkey meatball and noodle soup

Ingredients:

4 shiitake mushrooms
5 ounces fresh Chinese wheat noodles
1 pound ground turkey
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped kimchi
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon chili oil

1. In a bowl, soak the mushrooms in warm water until softened, about 15 minutes. Drain, thinly slice the mushrooms, and set aside.

2. Bring medium-sized pot filled with water to a boil over high heat. Add the noodles and cook according to package instructions. Drain, rinse, and drain again.

3. To prepare the meatballs, put the meat, cornstarch, sesame oil, and salt in a food processor and process to a smooth paste. Scoop the meatball mixture out into a bowl. With wet hands, roll the mixture into walnut-sized balls. Arrange the meatballs on a plate.

4. To make the soup, in a medium pot, combine the broth and the vinegar and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the meatballs and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and kimchi and simmer for 2 minutes longer. Add the cooked noodles and cook, stirring, until the noodles are heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

5. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each bowl with some green onions, cilantro, and chili oil.

Khmer-Style Rice Soup

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Adapted from a recipe in my weathered copy of Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet, this rice porridge is the perfect antidote to the winter blues. Similar to Singaporean congee or Cantonese jook, it’s got that same stick-to-your-ribs heartiness as any good rice soup should. The garnishes are endlessly adaptable — feel free to adjust to your liking.

Ingredients:

For the soup:

1/2 pound ground turkey
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
6 1/2 cups water
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and smashed flat with the side of a heavy blade
1 teaspoon anchovies in oil, drained and minced
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and smashed flat
1 cup jasmine rice, rinsed in cold water
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic

For the garnishes:

1/4 cup fish sauce
1 Thai bird chile, minced
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 small bunch Thai or American basil, coarsely torn
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Black pepper
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

1. In a medium bowl, combine the turkey with the fish sauce and sugar, mix well, and set aside.

2. Place the water in a large heavy pot over high heat, add the lemongrass, anchovies, and ginger, and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 to 10 minutes, then add the rice and stir until the water returns to a boil. Maintain a gentle boil until the rice is tender (adding more water if necessary to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot), about 20 minutes, then turn off the heat. Remove the lemongrass and ginger.

3. In a skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the turkey and stir-fry, using your cooking spoon to break up any large pieces. Cook, stirring frequently, until the turkey has cooked through, about 7 minutes. Transfer the contents of the skillet to the soup and stir in.

4. Make the garnishes: Combine the fish sauce and chile in a condiment bowl and set aside.

5. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, 3-5 minutes. Remove the shallots to a small bowl and set aside.

6. Just before serving, reheat the soup. Ladle into individual serving bowls and top with the basil, green onions, some shallots, black pepper, peanuts, and drizzle with the fish sauce-chile mixture. Serve hot.

Singaporean-Style Chicken Congee

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Congee, jook, bubur, porridge — whatever you call it, it’s the ultimate comfort food in a bowl, and an endlessly adaptable one at that. Topped with fried shallots, drizzled with sweet and salty soy sauce, served alongside Chinese doughnuts or a soft-boiled egg — the possibilities are endless.

Whenever I travel to Asia, I eat a lot of congee, especially for breakfast. One of my favorite ways to prepare congee is Singaporean-style. This version uses sticky rice as well as short-grain rice for a creamier version, but you can use simply regular short-grain rice for equally delicious results.

Singapore-style chicken congee

Ingredients:

1/2 cup short-grain rice
1/2 cup glutinous white rice
4 cups water
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound boneless chicken, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons shredded ginger
2 teaspoons crisp-fried shallots
1 green onion, thinly sliced
Pepper

1. Wash both types of rice, drain, and place in a large saucepan. Add the water and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer with the saucepan partially covered for about 1 hour, until the rice is very thick and soft, stirring from time to time to keep the rice from sticking. (If the congee is looking too thick, add some water or stock to thin it out.)

2. When the rice has been cooking for 30 minutes, put the chicken in a bowl, sprinkle with cornstarch and toss to coat. Add the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, sugar, and ginger. Mix and set aside.

3. When the rice is porridge-like, add the chicken and its marinade. Stir well and simmer until the chicken is cooked, 7-10 minutes.

4. Transfer the porridge to serving bowls and top with the crisp-fried shallots, green onion, and pepper to taste. Serve accompanied with more soy sauce for adding to taste.

Green Curry with Rice Noodles and Mussels

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This coconut curry is the kind of dish that tastes too good to be healthy. Brimming with greens and herbs, this meal in a bowl comes together in about half an hour. I love everything about this dish: the vibrant green, the creamy coconut, the salty mussels. Oh, and rice noodles. Gimme all the noodles.

Green coconut curry with mussels

Ingredients:

1 serrano chile, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
2 lemongrass stalks, bottom third only, tough outer layers removed, sliced
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 14-ounce can coconut milk
2 cups cilantro leaves with tender stems
3 cups basil leaves, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons coconut oil
4 pounds mussels, scrubbed
8 ounces rice stick noodles
1/2 lime
Salt

1. Puree chile, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, fish sauce, brown sugar, and 3 cups water in a blender until smooth. Transfer curry to a bowl. Reserve blender (no need to clean).

2. Puree coconut milk, cilantro, 3 cups basil, and 1/4 cup cold water in blender until smooth; set herb puree aside.

3. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high. Add mussels, cover, and cook until mussels open, about 7 minutes. Uncover and transfer opened mussels to a bowl, reserving cooking liquid in saucepan. If any mussels are still closed, cover and cook a few minutes longer, then add to bowl with others; discard any mussels that don’t open.

4. Add curry base to saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

5. In the meantime, cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water.

6. Pour any accumulated mussel-cooking liquid into curry mixture and stir in herb puree; bring to a boil. Immediately remove from heat and add reserved mussels and squeeze in juice from lime. Taste and season with salt if needed. Serve warm in bowls and garnish with reserved basil leaves.