Scene: The turbulent waters of planet Earth after a violent storm.
A large wooden ship cuts through the choppy seas, and a lone man stands lookout. He is tired of the endless sea, and sick of his stinking robes. Seven months have passed since he set sail, and he has yet to see a speck of land or a bird on the wing. The man kicks a toe at one of the deck planks and looks to the East. He narrows his eyes – hazel eyes set deep into his weathered face – and scans the horizon, just as he has done every afternoon of every day. He feels all of his 600 years this day. His bones creak and protest each time the ship’s prow slams into a swell. He grabs a rail to steady himself and groans at what he sees. Nothing but water.
“I’m too old for this shit.” He says, as a weary resignation settles over the dull ache in his ancient bones. “I should have retired centuries ago. Out here sailing around with a boat full of animals. Lost. Tired. Hungry. Thirsty. Nothing but water, but not a damn drop to drink!”
He bends over to pick up a small shell lodged into a deck plank, and his frail knees pop in protest. “GAH! Dammit!” He straightens up and throws the shell over the bow. As he watches it arc towards the wind-driven swells, he spots a glimmer in the distance.
“What the…” He scrambles to the bow and steps up on the rail. He sees a faint white reflection on the horizon, illuminated by the late-afternoon sun. “Holy crap!”
He runs back to the tiller and sets a course for the white speck.
The speck resolves itself to be the summit of a great mountain in the distance, the only land he’s seen since his voyage began and perhaps the only land left on this god-forsaken planet.
“Holy crap holy crap holy crap!”
The man runs around the deck like one of his two chickens in the hold below. He checks this line and that. He wipes his hands on his soiled robes then runs them through his tangled and greasy hair.
“Who am I getting presentable for?” He mutters to himself.
He is giddy with excitement as his ship approaches the western flank of the great mountain. Will there be people? Animals? Some fresh meat would be great! He couldn’t eat his cargo – strict orders from The Boss – but he came close a few times. Those giraffes are lucky to still be standing!
“A feast! That’s what we need! This calls for a celebration!”
The man runs to the hatch leading below deck and heaves it open with a mighty tug.
“Naamah!” He bellows into the dark hold. “Naamah, where are you, woman?!”
“What is it now, Noah? I’m busy milking the goat!”
“Naamah! Prepare a great feast! We will making be landfall before the night!” He jumps up and clicks his heels. “Teehee! Snap to it, woman!”
Somewhere below deck, Naamah, The Ever-Suffering, rolls her eyes. “Old coot.” She mutters under her breath. “About that feast, Noah!” Naamah calls up from the dark. “You know we’re basically out of food, right?”
“Don’t pester me with trifles, woman! Just prepare the feast”
“Ho-kay, you old codger. One feast, coming right up…”
And thus was born Noah’s Pudding, or Ashure (Aşure in Turkish), a sweet porridge made from barley, rice, kidney beans, chick peas, a mixture of dried fruits and nuts and sweetened with sugar (or honey). It is said that this porridge was made with whatever Noah had left on his ark when he made landfall on Mount Ararat. When Handan first told me about this dessert, I thought she was as nutty as the walnuts she likes to sprinkle on top of it. A dessert with beans? What the hell? But then she bought a packet of instant Ashure and told me to make it. I rolled my eyes and smirked, but I made it. And I’ve been hooked ever since. Of course, eating a simplified version from a packet that only requires some water and a quick boil wouldn’t do, so I scoured the web for recipes. It turns out, there is no single recipe. A recipe this old has a thousand variations based on region and family tradition. The following is my recipe, suited to my tastes (well, also suited to Handan’s). Some people add raisins, but I find that raisins tend to dominate the flavor profile. I like to add orange peel, and in a greater quantity than most, as I find it lifts and freshens the flavor. I also add a hint of cinnamon – not enough to notice unless you’re looking for it. But if it weren’t there, something would be missing.
Though Ashure is popular all around the Middle East and enjoyed by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, it has a special place in Turkish cuisine, since Mount Ararat, the fabled landing site of Noah’s Ark, lies within Turkey’s borders. When Turks make Ashure, they don’t just make enough for their family – they make enough for their apartment building, or their kids’ schoolmates or for extended family and friends. It is an offering of love and peace. The recipe I’m giving will also make enough for you to share. Feel free to scale back the recipe, but why not make a big batch and share the love? If you haven’t tried this dessert before, you’ll understand the moment you taste it.
Oh, one more thing – for those who are interested, this recipe is vegan. It is probably the oldest vegan recipe, too!
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Ashure (Noah’s Pudding)
3 cups pearl barley
1 (15 ounce) can white kidney beans (Canellini), drained and rinsed
1 (15 ounce) can chick peas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup uncooked white rice
1/4 cup dried currants
1/4 cup pine nuts
20 dried apricots, diced (about 3/4 cup, packed)
4 dried figs, diced (about 1/2 cup, packed)
peels of 2 oranges, diced
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 cups sugar
chopped walnuts for topping (optional)
pomegranate seeds for topping (optional)
The night before, place barley in a large pot (7 1/2 – 8 quart) with 2 quarts + 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, covered. Turn off heat, and let sit overnight.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot.
Fill pot with 2 quarts of water. Water should come to about 1 inch below the rim.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for one hour.
Remove from heat, fill bowls and cool, or transfer to a large storage container to cool.
Refrigerate and serve cold. Top with chopped walnuts, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds, if desired.