The chef inherited a recipe for ash reshteh from his mum in Iran and it’s travelled with him across the world.
In 2008, Hamed Allahyari was living with housemates in Iran, who were all sick of eating takeaway. Allahyari picked up the phone and called his mum, Farideh. She guided him in cooking ash reshteh – a traditional Persian noodle soup. He served it to his housemates who refused to believe he cooked it.
The housemates asked where he had bought the soup from and who had actually cooked it. It was a hit, and that sparked something in Allahyari that he sought to continue.
“The feeling I had was great. When you feed your friends, they’re happy and surprised – I liked it,” says Allahyari. “I got more energy to cook and challenged myself with hard dishes. I started inviting groups of 10, 15 people over to cook for,” he says.
Soon after his first ash reshteh success, Allahyari worked his way up from a kitchen hand to head chef at a large shopping centre restaurant in Tehran. He moved on to start his own cafe with two friends, which was “very successful”. But in 2012, his professional momentum came to a halt – and his life was changed – when he was forced to flee Iran. Allahyari’s safety was at risk when the authorities learned of his atheism – which is illegal in Iran. He left with his partner (who was pregnant at the time) immediately.
They came to Australia by boat via Indonesia. After four months in Christmas Island’s detention centre, he ended up in Melbourne. First, he cooked at the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, then he ran culinary classes at Free to Feed, a social enterprise powered by refugees and asylum seekers. More than 2500 people attended Allahyari’s cooking classes. “My dream is for everyone in Australia to try Persian food once,” he says.
In 2019, Allahyari opened SalamaTea, a Persian cafe in Sunshine, Melbourne’s west. The cafe is fully run by refugees and asylum seekers. “I say to them, we are not just a business about making money. The target is to be hosts to guests that haven’t tried Persian food.”
“In my culture, we call guests ‘guests of God’, and you have to treat guests better than yourself.”
“My dream is for everyone in Australia to try Persian food once.”
He’d actually wanted to publish one since 2017, but wasn’t so confident about his English proficiency. “I can talk fine, but I’m not a writer,” he said.
The book commences with Allahyari’s connection to food, information about Persian food culture, essential ingredients and different cooking techniques. There are stories behind many of the dishes, which span brunch, dips, starters, sides, salads, soups, meat and vegetarian mains. There are plenty of sweets and drinks recipes, too. The book also highlights the beauty of Persian banquets.
Salamati greets readers with a warm message, “Dedicated with love to my country and the people of Iran.”
“I love Iranians and I love the culture. I love my country. I feel like not many people know about my country; they know about the government. But not the people or our hospitality.” This book is another way Allahyari can make a difference.
And things have come full circle with Allahyari sharing a recipe for ash reshteh in the book – the Persian noodle soup that started it all.
Ash reshteh is one of the most popular soups in Iran. It’s served on all occasions, from Persian New Year celebrations to when people have a cold (due to its nutritional value). It’s also a common ‘nazri’ dish – cooked food given to others for help or as a blessing. This could be given to family or friends, to aid the disadvantaged, or offered as a symbol of condolence.
- ½ cup dried red kidney beans, or 400g can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- ½ cup dried brown lentils, or 400g can brown lentils, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup olive oil
- 2 brown onions (1 diced, 1 thinly sliced)
- 5 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tbsp ground turmeric
- 60 g coriander, stalks and leaves finely chopped
- 40 g flat-leaf parsley, stalks and leaves finely chopped
- 250 g garlic chives, finely chopped
- 200 g English spinach
- 250 g reshteh ash (thick Persian wheat noodles)
- 2 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- 15 g dried mint
- 200 g liquid kashk (or plain yoghurt), plus extra to serve
1. If using dried beans and pulses, separately soak the kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils in cold water overnight. The next day, drain the beans and pulses, then transfer to three saucepans and cover with cold water. Cook the kidney beans and chickpeas over medium heat for 30-40 minutes, until soft, and cook the lentils over medium heat for 20-30 minutes, until soft.
2. Meanwhile, heat ½ cup of olive oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the diced onion and cook for about 2 minutes until golden, then add half the garlic and half the turmeric and stir until fragrant.
3. Add 2 litres hot water to the pan, along with the chopped herbs and spinach, and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
4. Drain the kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils and add them to the pan along with the noodles. Simmer the soup for 15 minutes or until the noodles are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper, then remove from the heat.
5. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Add the sliced onion and cook for 5 minutes until golden brown. Stir through the remaining turmeric until fragrant, then transfer to a bowl.
6. Add the remaining garlic to the pan and cook for 2 minutes until golden, then transfer to a bowl. Add the dried mint to the pan and cook, stirring for 1 minute.
7. Divide the soup among bowls and swirl the kashk into the soup. Top each bowl with the fried onion, garlic and mint and serve with the extra kashk on the side.
Note: you can find liquid kashk at Middle Eastern supermarkets.
Images: supplied/Murdoch Books.