April 23, 2011

Torshi Piaz - Pickled Red Onions and Pickled Small White Onions

This quick ترشی پیاز torshi-e piaz is easy to make and doesn't require a long aging process before they can be eaten. Torshi is a very popular condiment that is served along with meals at lunch or dinner. There are almost as many different torshi varieties as there are popular vegetables and some pickles are made with more than one kind of vegetable. For example, Iranian style vegetable pickle recipe (torshi makhloot) calls for eight different vegetables that are cut into tiny pieces combined with many fresh and/or dried herbs and spices. There is also torshi miveh (fruit torshi), my mother's special recipe that's made with many different fruits and vegetables and is the only torshi that tastes a bit sweet because of the addition of dates and a piece of nabat (rock candy). Torshi is mostly made with vinegar and the taste is rather "torsh" (sour), hence the name. I find pickling very enjoyable and rather calming. Perhaps because it's not an everyday activity like cooking or maybe it's the idea of preservation that's appealing or simply the fact that torshi is delicious and irresistible.

Onions are widely used in Iranian cuisine. Usually, making piaz dagh (fried onions) is the first thing I do when I start to cook any kind of khoresh. Fried onions are also used as a garnish for ash (hearty soups) and some rice dishes. Onions are also served freshly sliced or sectioned with main dishes such as chelo kabab, lamb stew (abgoosht) and most rice and khoresh varieties for lunch. Sauteed, caramelized, pickled or raw onions absolutely enhance the flavors of most dishes and are essential in cooking.

Thinly sliced, gorgeous pickled red onions and the petite pearly white pickled onions would make a good substitute for the raw onion that many of us grew up with and still enjoy (mostly on weekends).

Pickled Red Onions


1 1/2 pounds medium red onions, peeled, thinly sliced
3-4 cups white distilled vinegar
2 tablespoons dried tarragon (tarkhoon)
1 tablespoon dried savory (marzeh)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds (tokhm-e geshniz)
1 tablespoon crushed angelica (golpar)
1 tablespoon nigella seeds (siah daneh) *optional
1 red hot dried pepper
3 tablespoons salt

  1. In a small bowl combine dried tarragon, savory, coriander seeds, crushed angelica and nigella seeds. 
  2. Pour vinegar in a non-reactive pot, place on the stove and bring to a gentle simmer on medium-low heat.
  3. Stir in the spice mix, add the red pepper and let it gently simmer for about five minutes.
  4. Place the sliced onions in the pot with vinegar and spices, add salt, gently stir with a wooden spoon, simmer for another 5-7 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and let vinegar cool to room temperature.
  6. Pour the onions and vinegar into a clean and dry glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Make sure all ingredients are covered by vinegar. Add more vinegar if needed. Close the lid tightly.
  7. Store in a dry and cool place.
  8. This pickle is ready in 2-3 days.

Pickled Small White Onions

For pickled white onions you may use the same spices listed in the above recipe and a pinch of turmeric for a tastier torshi. However, if you would like the onions to maintain their color, here's a simpler recipe with only a few ingredients.

Pickled Small White Onions


1 pound small white onions, trim both ends of onions and peel
3-4 cups white distilled vinegar
3 tablespoons salt
1 red hot dried pepper
1 whole fresh tarragon (with leaves attached to stem), washed and placed on a paper towel to completely dry


  1. Bring vinegar to a gentle simmer in a medium non-reactive pot on medium-low heat.
  2. Place the onions and the red pepper into the pot, add salt and stir. Simmer for 5-7 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
  4. Transfer the onions and vinegar into a clean glass jar.  Place the whole tarragon and the pepper in the center of the jar, for easy removal later on. Add more vinegar if needed.
  5. Close lid tightly. Keep in a cool and dry place.
  6. This pickle is ready in 2-3 days.

April 10, 2011

Ash-e Somagh - Persian Herb and Sumac Soup

It may officially be spring but the weather is still cold and windy. That means there's still plenty of time to make a warm pot of soup. This is also a good opportunity for me to use the recipe that inspired me in the only Iranian cookbook that I own! This cookbook was given to me by mother when I left home many years ago and  is called "Noosh-e Jan Konid" (Bon Appetit), by Mansoureh Amir Ebrahimi, which was published in Tehran. I don't know much about khanoum Amir Ebrahimi; in the introduction she writes that she had a cooking radio show called "Zan O Zendegi" (Woman and Life) and she decided after ten years to turn the recipes from her radio program into a cookbook. That's perhaps the reason why my mother found out and chose this book for me to take on my long journey abroad. Sometimes, a gift will last you a lifetime! I can imagine her listening to Mrs. Amir Ebrahimi's program in the morning while tidying up our rooms, rearranging furniture and preparing lunch. Well, for many years I had no use for a cookbook, I basically lived on cafeteria food, fruits, yogurt and bread. I kept the book in a box with the rest of the books and magazines that I accumulated over the years. I re-discovered it during my recent spring cleaning and decided to pay tribute to this less well-known author and her cookbook. I have searched her name on the Internet but unfortunately I have not been able to find much information on her. I am becoming increasingly passionate about preserving what's been good in the past and to pass it along.

I chose آش سماق  ash-e somagh recipe to highlight because it's rich, creamy, comforting and delicious. However, I made a few changes. The original recipe calls for small meatballs but I decided to make a vegetarian soup with lentils instead. If you prefer, you can add meatballs to the soup. The recipe also calls for either rice flour or small broken rice to reduce the cooking time and perhaps to make the texture more smooth and creamy. I used basmati rice and it turned out well. Also, since the amount of ingredients recommended in the recipe were more than what I usually make for our family of four I decided to cut down the amount of rice, herbs and sumac. Finally, I served ash-e somagh with the usual caramelized onion, garlic and mint topping.

Sumac gives this soup a subtle tangy taste. Sumac is mostly sprinkled on kabab dishes for extra flavorings. Growing up, sumac was always on the table alongside salt and pepper.

Ash-e Somagh - Herb and Sumac Soup

Recipe adapted from Noosh-e Jan Konid by Mrs. Mansoureh Amir Ebrahimi

Serves 4-6

1 cup rice, rinsed
1/2 cup lentils, rinsed
3-4 tablespoons dried sumac, soaked in 1/2 cup of cool water for an hour
1 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, hard stems removed
1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup finely chopped fresh chives or scallions (green parts only)
1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon, hard stems removed
A few sprigs of mint, washed and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste


1 large onion, cut into small pieces or thinly sliced
4-5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons dried mint
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  1. Put the rice in a large stew pot, add 8 cups of water, bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Then lower heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Pour in the lentils, stir well, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Add water if necessary. Always add hot water to the stew that's cooking on the stove. Cool water will interrupt the simmering/boiling process.
  3. Stir in the chopped herbs into the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste and let it simmer on low heat for another 10 minutes.
  4. You may drain sumac in a very fine mesh strainer and add the liquid into the soup as suggested in the book or pour in the soaked sumac and all liquid and cook for another 10-15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.
  5. In the meantime, saute onions in hot oil. When golden brown, add turmeric, stir well, mix in the garlic and mint, and saute for another 5 minutes on medium heat.
  6. Add some of the fried onion mixture into the soup, stir well and save the rest for garnish.
Ladle the soup into a serving bowl, garnish with fried onion and drizzle some of its oil, sprinkle a little bit of sumac and serve with warm lavash and yogurt. Ash-e somagh may be served hot or cold.

* For ash-e somagh with meatballs, combine a pound of ground meat (lamb, beef or turkey), salt, pepper, a handful of chopped herbs, 1 small grated onion, one egg, 1 tablespoon of flour, mix well. Make tiny meatballs, brown on all sides in hot vegetable oil and add to the soup half way through cooking.