February 16, 2017

Ash-e Jo - Barley Soup with Spinach and Cilantro: A Safavid Era Recipe

I was gifted an Iranian cookbook titled آشپزی دوره صفوی - Ashpazi Doreh-ye Safavi (Cooking during the Safavid Dynasty). This cookbook is a compilation of two separate books (Karnameh and Madat-al- Hayat) about cooking and recipes from the era of Shah Ismail I ( 1501-1524) and Shah Abbas I (1588-1629). According to the author, Iraj Afshar, many of the recipes in this book were dishes served at the Safavid royal court. The working-class people could barely afford most of these extravagant, elaborate, and time-consuming meals. I suspect that this book would appeal to those interested in the history of Iranian cuisine. While many of the recipes are not easy to read or easy to make, the instructions are vague, the servings are large and the correct measurement of ingredients is left to your imagination, it's wonderful to have a glimpse into the type of food people used to eat long ago.

On a personal note, I am very passionate about recreating old and forgotten recipes and have a deep desire to bring them back to life, I decided to try out one of the recipes and among the many recipes listed in the book, I came across a simple vegetarian barley soup with spinach and cilantro. I would think a warm bowl of barley soup would have appealed to the Safavid royal court as well as the working class people especially in the cold days of winter. I have written two other barley recipes in the past, Soup-e Jo and Ash-e Jo and this آش جو ash-e jo recipe would be a great addition to my barley recipes. I used this brief and loose ash recipe with vague directions and converted it into a usable recipe and I'm delighted to share it with you all. I tried to stay true to the original recipe and keep it as authentic as possible while coming up with my own measurements and proportions. Adding lime juice, butter/olive oil to the ash is simply a personal preference and you may skip it if you like.

Ash-e Jo - Barley Soup with Spinach and Cilantro
Serves 4-6

1 cup barley
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup chopped spinach
A handful of almonds
Salt and pepper
Freshly squeezed lime juice *optional
Butter/olive oil *optional

  1. Place the raw almonds in a small bowl, cover with boiling water, let sit for a few minutes, remove the skins and let the almonds dry completely. You can use a food processor or a mortar and pestle to grind the almonds. Set aside.
  2. Rinse barley under cool running water, drain, and place in a saucepan. Cover the barley with a couple of inches of water, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, add 1/2 teaspoon salt. cover partially and simmer for 45 minutes or until tender.
  3. Add the chopped cilantro, spinach, and ground almonds. Add more water if needed. Simmer on low heat for another 10-15 minutes.
  4. Add 1-2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, stir well, taste, and adjust the seasoning.
Serve the ash in individual soup bowls and drizzle each serving with a generous squeeze of lime juice.



  1. wow thats an interesting soup!, too bad the book is in persian right? I love the recipes you have , tried the eggplant kokoo once , even my egg hating son loved it.

    1. Thank you Nammi jan! Hope all is well with you and your family.

  2. Hello! I've been visiting your wonderful website for many years. I'm always learning new things here. I appreciate it very much.
    I made this soup this evening. The washed barley cooked beautifully but after adding the spinach, cilantro and ground almonds I began to have my doubts. I was reminded of my experiences with communal life when there were too many mouths to feed and no one knew how to cook. Almost, but not quite, medieval! Yet this is one of those recipes that is really transformed only at the end stage when the salt, pepper and butter/oil are thoroughly blended into the soup and lime juice is added to the individual serving bowls. I'm tempted to make changes but realize that's not the point of the recipe. It's the simplicity and delicate flavors that make this soup a classic, just as it is. Yum! As always, thanks!

  3. I just made this soup and both my little girls and loved it. The littlest ate 3 bowls! So simple healthy and delicious. Thank you!