Persian (Iranian) Soup Customs
Persian cuisine--based largely on its ancient foundation of indigenous spinach, pomegranate, citrus fruits, saffron, and roses that grew there--was greatly enriched over the millennia by its location on the great trading routes, a stopping place for caravans of traders in spices and rare foodstuffs. It didn't have much to learn from the Greeks, whose food Persians scorned even in mid invasion...or when being invaded, in the case of Alexander the Great. But it benefitted greatly from Roman and Chinese goods, developing delicate and complex foodways that were rooted in its Zoroastrian traditions of balancing "hot" and "cold" foods in people's diets to keep them healthy and good humored. With the onslaught of Arab invaders in the 7th century, it converted to Islam and gave up the pleasures of wine, but otherwise converted the invaders to the glorious of its food.
Persian soups are various and have developed over time in step with its history. Its simple onion soup, eshkeneh, for example, is said to date from King Arsaces' military campaigns in 250 BCE against the King of Syria. But traditional soups can be roughly grouped into three categories:
Characteristically, all types of soup widely use fresh herbs and fruit--are often sweet/sour--and feature yogurt.
- Âb goosht: an everyday, economical soup, meat based but filled with beans so it can be stretched to feed many. Commonly, it uses lamb stock and can contain fruits, fruit juices, and grains.
- Âsh: a vegetable-based soup (that can contain meat, vegetables, grains, and fruits). A popular Âsh uses rice, spinach, peas, lentils, and lemon juice. The famous Âsh-e Reshteh is filled with beans, spinach, noodles, yoghurt, and mint.
- Soop: a thin, often exotic soup used as a first course to stimulate the appetite and often accompanied with or thickened by taftun, a medium soft bread.
As an interesting sidenote, Margaret Shaida, in her superb book on The Legendary Cuisine of Persia, describes Âsh-e-Nazri, or "Pledge Soup," as a kind of institutionalized Stone Soup. When a family is making special prayers--for example, for the health of a child or the safe return of a loved one--it will enjoin neighbors and friends to help make a soup that will serve as a pledge for the prayer. "All the ingredients for the soup must be donated by those who wish for the return of the child...so the rich are not accused of bribery or the poor excluded through poverty." If the prayer is granted, the soup will be made each year as pledged, usually on the nearest saint's day.