FOOD: Aşure, a beautiful community tradition
Perhaps you’ve heard the story before: a great evil, a divinely sent flood, and a man with a zoo on a boat.
It’s one of the oldest stories told, a story that takes many different forms, but what makes it unique is its ubiquity. In every inhabited continent, there is a myth of a great flood: from the Inca’s tale of Pachakuti, to the Mesopotamian story of Gilgamesh, from the strikingly similar stories of Nu’u in Hawaiian mythology, Noah in the Torah, Tumbainot of the Maasai, and Nuh in the Qur’an, to the starkly different stories from the Egyptians, Chinese, Finnish, and Ojibwe.
Stories are one of the beautiful things that connects us all as people.
Despite the variety of ways our different cultures play out in the way we tell stories, or even the focus of our stories, this diversity can lead us to see the unifying artistic and creative elements of story-telling. Stories can help us understand one another. The more we look at the stories we all tell, the more we can see the similarities we share in our experiences and histories. The dish I want to introduce you to today has a similar unifying quality.
Aşure [pronounced “ah-shoor-eh”] is a Turkish dessert that has its roots in this story of the flood as found in the Qur’an. It is said that when the passengers of the ark were on the brink of starving, Nuh (Noah) mixed together all the leftover grains, nuts, beans and fruit to make what would be dubbed “the oldest dessert.” Together he and the other passengers ate, celebrating the end of the flood, and the next day Allah (God) made the waters of the flood recede.
Today, while this day is celebrated differently by different sects of Islam, Turks generally share this dessert with neighbors, family, and friends in goodwill and kindness in the Islamic month of Muharram, especially on the 10th day of Muharram [Ashura]. This year, that landed on August 29th. Some Islamic traditions hold that a variety of miracles and divine interactions happened on this day throughout history, including the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.
Aşure, like the flood narrative itself, is a picture of unity and diversity.
A dessert meant to be shared with neighbors, coworkers, friends and family, aşure is one unified dish made up of surprisingly varied ingredients (like fruit, grains and beans!). Likewise, despite the vast differences in the details of the flood narratives around the world, they all hold a unified history, and are shared from generation to generation. Each tells of a great being acting in response to some provocation to flood the world, leaving a few survivors. While the details of who that great being was, what provoked the flood, who survived, and how they survived differ greatly, those same differences helped create the variety of cultures we see in the world today.
As easily identifiable markers of culture, food and story-telling have always had this unifying effect. What culturally significant moments do you participate in that involve food and/or story-telling? Is there a holiday that your family celebrates with specific food? Is there a time when neighbors, friends or family gather and share stories of religious, familial, or national significance? Aşure is a religiously significant dish shared with neighbors and friends regardless of their religious background. What’s one way you can invite someone new into your traditions this year?
What’s in Aşure?
Aşure is a porridge with a lovely fall taste (similar to cinnamon oatmeal), and a wide variety of textures. if you are an expat in Turkey, you may find yourself easily overwhelmed by the sheer amount you receive from your neighbors. But since it is full of whole grains, beans, and fruit, you can eat this dessert with less guilt than my previous cookie recipes!
The very nature of aşure is that it doesn’t have one specific recipe. Everyone’s aşure is slightly different based on personal taste and what’s on hand. Here are the general categories of the ingredients of aşure, and some options of what you can put in yours. Mix and match! Try some different combinations and let me know in the comments what your favorite is!
- Grains: Barley, Wheat, bulgur, and/or rice
- Beans: White beans and/or chickpeas
- Dried Fruit: Dates, dried figs, dried apricots, dried cranberries, raisins, and/or other dried fruits
- Seeds + Spices + Seasonings: Anise seed, sesame seeds, black cumin seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, rose water, and/or orange blossom water + a sweetener like honey (one could also use maple syrup, sugar, turbinado, or a sugar substitute like stevia)
- Nuts: Pine nuts, walnuts, almonds and/or pistachios
- Fresh Fruit: Pomegranate kernels, orange (or orange peel), lemon (or lemon peel)
Start with soaking the beans, raisins and grain separately overnight. Then cook the beans on the stovetop in water, add the grains, and let it thicken. Then add fruit, spices, and nuts until the porridge comes together. Here are links to some more specific recipes if you struggle not having a specific recipe to work from.
Personally, I really enjoy the flavor of aşure. The first few spoonfuls are fascinating as I work my way through the high complexity of textures. But, I can quickly become overwhelmed by the complexity, so I tend to only eat a little at a time. Try making aşure yourself, and tell me what you think! Do you enjoy the complexity of flavors and textures? Which ingredients do you use?
I hope you make some aşure this fall and winter, and share it with a good story, unifying the people around you.
Now tell me:
What are some ways you bring unity to your community through food and story-telling?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I am a lover of words and stories, student of culture, amateur photographer, adult cross-cultural kid, English tutor to TCKs (Third Culture Kids), and aspiring foodie. We will probably be instant friends if you give me good coffee, invite me to cook with you, or start a conversation with me about personalities, culture, and how the two intersect. I’m a life-long nerd, believer, and creative-in-the-works. I am all about the journey, so traveling and cross-cultural living is always something that has captured my heart and inspired my imagination.
In 2016, after teaching in an inner-city school and needing a change of pace, I spent a year abroad in Izmir, Turkey with a friend. I absolutely fell in love with the city and the people. The conveniences of a big city with a friendly, slow-pace-of-life atmosphere is all found between the mountains and the sea. What’s not to love? So, after my year of adventure, I knew I wanted to come back to Izmir to live.
Positioned on the perch of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, Turkey is both a mix of cultures, and a unique culture all its own. The more I learn, the more I want to learn, and this desire to learn is what drives me to write. As a pretty quiet person, I write to learn, to discover, and to process. As someone who grew up in a cross-cultural context, Turkey’s diversity and mix of cultures is something I personally relate to. Plus, if you’ve ever tasted Turkish food, you know that it is definitely something to write home about. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Funks’ blog and to grow and learn in the process.