Though the religious connotations are heavy with this dish, it is not directly a part of the respective religions themselves but rather a tradition that has been carried out for centuries. This weekend, on Aug. 29, people will go and buy whatever they need to prepare this sublime dessert. Buying the ingredients and then sharing the dish with neighbors, family and friends is thought to bring prosperity. While that is up to discussion, I can attest that I try to moderate my cooking on Ashura every year, but it always ends up more than I need. Sharing is caring. So if you are interested in taking part in this day and enjoy one of the most nutritional desserts – and one of the oldest desserts in the world – here is how you can make it:
Soak the wheat and cannellini beans in hot water – you can soak them in the same container but make sure you soak the chickpeas separately. The rice and bulgur can be soaked together as well.
Drain the water of the soaked chickpeas and add them to the wheat and beans, pouring additional water before you start boiling them. Keep an eye on the mixture and add more water if needed as it boils.
When the chickpeas start to soften, add the rice and bulgur together with the water they were soaked in and continue cooking. No need to waste the water here. Let it boil for a bit.
After a few minutes add the raisins and/or zante currants (kuş üzümü in Turkish), which can be soaked as well to release their sweet juices, though this step is not essential. Do not forget to constantly add water at regular intervals, mix well and scrape the bottom of your pot to be sure that nothing has stuck.
This whole cooking of the ingredients can take up to 1 1/2 hours. When it starts to thicken and get a more pudding-like texture overall add the finely chopped dried apricots and continue to cook.
When the chickpeas and beans are tender, you can add the chopped figs. It is crucial that you leave the figs to the very end of the cooking process as they darken the whole dessert if they are cooked together for a long time. Let that simmer together for a maximum of two minutes. And as a final touch, add the sugar, let it come to a boil and turn off the heat.
Tips and notes
Beans, wheat, chickpeas, bulgur and rice expand quite a bit while boiling and cooking so it is easy to overestimate the mounts you'll need and you'll likely end up with more ashura than you intended. You can sterilize some glass jars and fill them with the hot ashura to keep for a few weeks. It is a great snack to bring to work. But these jars of Ashura won't last too long as the whole mix gets watery quickly due to the fruit and the taste does change a bit. The color will also change due to the figs, of course.
Share this dessert with as many people as you can – but mind your distance and wear masks and gloves. The pandemic might urge us to stay separated but sharing this kind of dish will definitely lift your spirits.
Go all out with your toppers and decorations for this dessert. There are so many toppers that go really well with it. The classic option would be to sprinkle a bit of cinnamon and a few pomegranate seeds. But personally speaking, mixing those in and adding some extra pieces of finely chopped apricots, figs, almonds and some crushed or whole hazelnuts give it both a visual appeal and an interesting texture while eating.
While this recipe is my personal favorite that I have stuck to for years, there are many different versions out there. Some are even made with milk. Feel free to double or halve the amounts mentioned here or add more sugar if this isn't sweet enough for your taste. The amount of sugar listed here is moderate, as I like the sweetness of the dried fruit to be in the forefront.