Greens and beans

You can use any Persian or Indian soup as a template to come up with your own.

soup 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
soup 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
You can use any Persian or Indian soup as a template to come up with your own, exploring what you have or what you find at the market Some traditional soups are so wholesome that you would think it was nutritionists who came up with the recipes. Consider the Mediterranean soups of legumes and greens, like Lebanese lentil soup with spinach and Turkish white bean soup with greens and tomatoes. Their main ingredients - leafy greens and dried beans - are highly recommended by dietitians for their health-giving properties. Judging from the number of bean soups created by Persian and Indian cooks, the people of that part of the planet must be particularly fond of this kind of hearty pottage. Almost all these soups have some kind of green accent - one or more herbs and often leafy cooking greens too. The herbs are added in such liberal quantities - by cupfuls rather than by tablespoons - that they should count as "cooking greens" as well. At Persian markets the prepared mixtures of greens and herbs, ready to be added to soups and stews, are usually referred to as "green vegetables." Cooks in Iran and India have come up with countless variations on the "beans plus greens" soup theme, with many similarities. Both Persian and Indian cooks use sautéed onions in generous amounts for good flavor, and might include additional vegetables, like carrots, potatoes and turnips. In both lands a favorite seasoning for beans is turmeric, which, "in India, is considered a digestive," according to Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking. Part of this Indo-Persian culinary connection is due to the Zoroastrians, known in India as the Parsis, who left Iran during the Arab conquest and moved to India and, wrote Neelam Batra in 1,000 Indian Recipes, settled near Bombay - "their foods reflect a strong Iranian influence." There are quite a few traditional Indian recipes dubbed Parsi dishes, including a popular Bombay mung bean soup. Although bean soups in both countries might resemble each other in their main components, their seasonings are very different. Cooks in India give their soups punch with a variety of spices, like fresh gingerroot, whole cumin seeds and hot peppers, while Iranians complement their soups' seasonings mostly with herbs, notably dill, mint, parsley and tarragon. Cooks in both lands like fresh coriander but use it differently - Persians cook it at length with the other ingredients, while Indians add it to soup bowls at the last moment. Bean soups can be vegetarian or meat-based. You can use any Persian or Indian soup as a template to come up with your own, using what you have or what you find at the market. One substantial Persian pottage of legumes and green vegetables combines chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, bulgur wheat and rice, cooked with sauteed onions, leeks, carrots and cabbage, as well as herbs - parsley, tarragon, coriander and mint. Obviously, you could make a savory soup with one kind of bean and fewer herbs. To finish, the soup is topped with a dollop of kashk, a dairy product that tastes like rich salty labaneh but is made of dried buttermilk. For a meat meal, a Persian mung bean and meatball soup calls for simmering the beans with rice, then adding fried onions, turmeric, chopped spinach, turnips, green onions, parsley, dill and lemon juice, and a garnish of tiny meatballs. Another soup is composed of lentils, beets and spinach simmered with turmeric in a meat broth; it too, is seasoned with lemon juice, a Persian favorite. To make an Indian yellow mung bean and spinach soup, Batra cooks split yellow mung beans with ginger-garlic paste, turmeric, hot pepper flakes and salt. Towards the end she adds chopped spinach and lots of coriander. The soup's final embellishment is sizzling sautéed whole cumin seeds and ground coriander. With similar components, her yellow split chickpeas with spinach comes out completely different; it contains carrot chunks, tomato sauce and lots of dill, and is finished with lemon juice and coriander. Don't think that making one of these soups will take all day. Both Iranian and Indian cooks use pressure cookers to cut the simmering time of legumes. Canned beans are an even faster and easier option. To make a short-cut greens and beans soup, start with a package of frozen spinach and a can of chickpeas. Cook them in chicken or vegetable broth with a sautéed onion, garlic and Persian herbs or Indian spices, and in less than 15 minutes you'll have a tasty, satisfying main-course soup. CHICKPEA AND CHARD SOUP Flavored with garlic, hot peppers, cumin, turmeric and coriander, this soup features spices popular in India as well as much of the Mideast. Make it vegetarian or add pieces of chicken to turn it into a hearty chicken-chickpea soup (see Variation). If you don't have chard, substitute fresh or frozen spinach. 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil 2 large onions, sliced 1 Tbsp. chopped peeled gingerroot 6 large garlic cloves, chopped 11⁄2 cups dried chickpeas, sorted and rinsed 2 small dried hot peppers or 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 tsp. hot red pepper flakes 3 cups vegetable or chicken broth 5 cups water, or more if needed 1 tsp. ground cumin 1⁄2 tsp. turmeric salt and freshly ground pepper 450 gr. chard, rinsed well 3⁄4 cup long-grain white rice 1⁄3 cup chopped fresh coriander or parsley, or 1 to 2 Tbsp. chopped dill Heat oil in a large pot. Add onions and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes or until softened. Add ginger and garlic and sauté for 1⁄2 minute. Remove mixture to a plate. Add chickpeas, hot peppers, broth and 5 cups water to pot and bring to a boil. Skim foam from surface. Cover and cook over low heat 1 hour. Add sautéed onion mixture, cumin, turmeric and salt and cook for 30 to 60 minutes or until chickpeas are tender. Remove hot peppers. Peel chard stems if they have thick ribs. Cut stems in thin strips. Chop leaves; keep them separate from stems. Add rice and chard stems to soup, stir once, cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes or until rice is tender. If soup is too thick, add a little more hot water. Add chopped chard leaves and bring to a simmer. Cook 5 minutes or until chard is tender. Add half the coriander. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with remaining coriander when serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings. VARIATION: CHICKPEA AND CHARD CHICKEN SOUP Omit broth. Add 1 kg. chicken pieces to the pot along with the chickpeas and a total of 10 cups water. When chicken is tender, after about 1 hour of simmering, remove it. Skim fat from soup and continue with recipe (second paragraph). Remove chicken skin and bones. Cut meat in strips and add to soup with chopped chard leaves. Faye Levy's book Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home will be published in March by Morrow.