Ashure: Sweet Grains with Orange, Strawberries and Nuts

This recipe is a variation, inspired by the pudding I once had at Hi Life, a fish restaurant in Faliron, south of Athens.  The orange pieces and the fresh orange juice in the grain mixture make a thick, soupy ashure. We love it on its own, or served together with fresh, creamy or aged cheeses, especially with manouri, or any semi-hard goat cheese from Crete or from the Cyclades.

READ more about this ancient dessert. 

 

 

Serves 12-14

 

1 cup farro (see note) soaked in warm water overnight, and drained.

 

Pinch of salt

 

2 cinnamon sticks

 

1/3 cup cooked chickpeas (optional)

 

2/3 cup bulgur (fine or medium)

 

2/3 – 1 cup sugar, to taste

 

1/2 cup lemon or orange marmalade (optional)

 

2/3 cup almonds or hazelnuts (toasted if you like) coarsely ground

 

2/3 cup walnuts or pecan, coarsely ground

 

1/2 – 1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, as many as you like

 

8 dried figs, diced with scissors

 

6 dried apricots diced with scissors

 

1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

 

1/2 -1 teaspoon ground pepper

 

Zest and juice from 2 oranges, plus 2 more large oranges, one peeled and diced and the other sliced thinly for topping the pudding

 

1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other citrus-flavored liqueur –I use my own Lemon Liqueur

 

1 cup or more strawberries for topping, or about 2/3 cup pomegranate seeds

 

 

3-ashure-nut-mix-half-s
4-ashure-orange-s

 

In a pot bring to boil 2 quarts of water with the drained farro, a pinch of salt and the cinnamon sticks. Lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or more, until the grains are tender; be careful not to overcook them. Drain the farro, keeping the cinnamon sticks and the cooking broth; you need 6 cups of it.

In a mixer or blender process the cooked grains with some of the cooking liquid to get a coarse pulp. Transfer to a saucepan and add the chickpeas, if using, the reserved broth (6 cups minus what you used in the blender), the bulgur, the cinnamon sticks, and 2/3 cup sugar. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or more, until the bulgur is cooked.

 

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Remove from the heat, discard the cinnamon sticks and stir in the marmalade, if using, the almonds or hazelnuts, the walnuts or pecan, the figs, the apricots and the pistachios, keeping 1-2 tablespoons for topping the pudding. Add the ground cinnamon and pepper, the orange zest, the orange juice, the diced orange and the liqueur. Stir gently to incorporate all the ingredients, taste and if you want, add more sugar, stir again and transfer to a large bowl.

 

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Arrange the orange slices and the strawberries, or pomegranate seed on the surface of ashure and sprinkle with the reserved pistachios. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight before serving.

 

NOTE: I used Anson Mills Slow Roasted Farro in the US, both for my Kollyva and for Ashure. The wheat berries we use in Greece are similar to this particular farro, and very different from the American wheat berries, which I don’t recommend.

 

 

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Our Favorite Ancient Vegan Pudding

Asouré (or aşure) also called ‘Noah’s pudding’ in Istanbul, is an ancient, delicious, sweetened grain risotto with nuts and fruit, both dried and fresh. It is the perfect vegan dessert and we make it often in the spring, especially the days of Lent before Easter.  

 

Read also about kollyva, another version of the ancient sweet. 

 

1-ashure-plate-s

 

Asouré is probably the continuation of polysporia the mixture of grains symbolically offered by ancient Greeks and other Eastern Mediterranean people to their gods, especially Demeter (Ceres), the goddess of agriculture, much like kollyva which in ancient Greek the meant “small coin” or “small golden weight,” as well as “small cakes.” The Turkish and Greek asouré or asourés, also called ‘Noah’s pudding’ in Istanbul, is a similar age-old sweet.

In this the wheat berries are not drained as in kollyva, but simmered with sugar, sometimes, especially in Istanbul  together with beans and/or chickpeas until the cooking liquid thickens.  Nuts and dried fruits are added, and the soupy ashure is served in bowls, traditionally decorated with pomegranate seeds. It solidifies when it cools, like a real pudding.  In Israel and throughout the Middle East I found similar sweets, with the grains cooked in milk and sweetened with honey. Obviously, they all share the same ancient roots. (more…)

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Melomakarona Tart with Fruit or Lemon

The Greek old-fashioned Christmas cookies are vegan because people ate them during the days of Lent that precede Christmas. You can use the dough –an olive-oil-shortcake– as a pie crust, filling it with cooked apples, quince, or other seasonal fruit. I particularly love to make a fragrant Lemon tart, using Lemon Curd, or your favorite lemon cream. 

No specific recipe needed. Use half the Melomakarona dough, and lay it on a parchment-paper- lined 9-inch pan. Bake in the center of the oven for about 20-25 minutes, let cool completely on a rack and then fill with your favorite Lemon Cream or with Lemon Curd and serve sprinkling with coarsely ground walnuts. 

To make a Quince or Apple Tart, fill the crust with poached quince or apples, using as an inspiration the filling from the Quince Rolls. You can also mix the poached fruit with Quince Preserves, and serve sprinkle liberally with walnuts. 

 

 

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Chocolate-Olive-oil-almond-and-ginger Cake

‘Eat olive oil and come tonight’ (Φάε λάδι κι έλα βράδι) as the old Greek saying commended, pointing out the lightness, as well as the aphrodisiac properties of our indispensable ingredient. Both our savory and sweet dishes and treats are better with olive oil, I think, and I am not alone; this truly sumptuous cake is based on Nigella Lawson’s popular recipe

 

 

The glaze is based on  Smitten Kitchen’s  vegan olive-oil chocolate cake, but I prefer to use honey instead of corn syrup. I love to top the cake with crystalized ginger, but you can use candied orange slices if you prefer. 

Serve with cream and fresh strawberries or sliced oranges, preferably the spectacular-looking blood oranges, if you can get them. 

 

 

For a 9-inch cake (more…)

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Quince, Raisin, and Walnut ‘Sharlotka’

As I wrote in our November Newsletter, Apple Sharlotka had become our favorite winter dessert. This “…labor-saving, timesaving and space-saving [cake]” is how author Darra Goldstein, author of  “Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore” described sharlotka to Olga Massov, who wrote about it in the Washington Post.

This wonderful cake has become our go-to early winter treat and I was making it all the time.  To the apples I often added a cup of last year’s quince preserves, before making the new batch. Now that we have plenty of quince from our trees, I adapted Darra’s basic recipe for these fragrant fruit.

 

It takes a bit more time, since the quince need to be poached or slow-baked to soften, but the result is worth the extra effort, as you can attest if you try it…

 

For a 9-inch round cake –or equivalent square, or 1 large or 2 small loaves 

 

(more…)

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