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An Ancient Recipe
Eshkeneh is an old, ancient recipe that dates back to Parthia, to around 250 BCE. The Parthian Empire, known also as the Arsacid Empire, being strategically situated on The Silk Road, was a major political and trade power. It stretched from what is now central-eastern Turkey, to Eastern Iran.
There is mention of onion soup in historical reports of military campaigns of Parthian soldiers, purportedly written by Marcus Gavius Apicius, a wealthy Roman merchant and epicure.
It would seem that Parthian soldiers dined on the battlefield on onion soup, thought to be the predecessor of the modern day’s Persian Onion Soup, or Eshkeneh.
Cold Weather Recipe
But, this is not a history blog, and so I shall return to the subject of soup, specifically Eshkeneh, the Persian Onion Soup. I adore soups and stews of all description, and tend to favour the heavy ones in autumn, and the lighter ones, like today’s Eshkeneh, in spring time.
And so do my Persian clients. Quite often, eshkeneh is asked for when I cater to Nowruz parties. Nowruz is the spiritual Persian New Year, that falls on the first day of spring. It is celebrated not just in Iran, but in many other Central Asian communities. You can read more about it here.
Eshkeneh is a very easy recipe to put together, and takes about 30 minutes. Although it is popularly known as Persian Onion Soup, there is more going on in there, with eggs and fenugreek sharing the spotlight.
You can make Vegan Eshkeneh very easily, by leaving out the eggs and using only olive oil. Let’s very quickly take a look at the ingredients in the Persian Onion Soup.
How to Cook Eshkeneh
Onions are the star of the show, so don’t skimp on them! I use 1 large onion for 2 people, and slice them, so they add to the body of the soup. White or brown onions are perfect for this, red onions just lose themselves when cooked, as far as I’m concerned. I tend to keep them for salads.
Fenugreek (Leaves) in Eshkeneh
Read more about it here. Traditionally, fresh fenugreek leaves (shanbalileh in Farsi, methi leaves in Hindi) are used to add colour and flavour to this soup.
Most people use half the amount of leaves that I do. But I rather like the hint of curry flavour in the soup, and so I use a large handful for a recipe for 2 people. This is something you can play around with, no?
But I totally get that they are not going to be the easiest thing to get for many in the West (or East!).
So, the next best thing? If you have access to online shopping, you know that’s the way to go, right?
Otherwise, if you can get your hands on dried fenugreek leaves (what the South Asians call kasuri methi) from an Indian/Middle Eastern grocer, that will work too.
- 1 large handful fresh fenugreek leaves = 2 Tbsp dried fenugreek leaves.
- No leaves at all? Get yourself some fenugreek seeds, lightly crush them and add to the recipe along with the turmeric.
1 large handful fresh leaves = 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds.
Then, add 2 handfuls of spinach, all chopped up, as the green.
- No fenugreek, in any shape or form? Use 2 handfuls spinach, chopped up as the green, and add 1/4 tsp ground cumin or cumin seeds, along with the turmeric.
Grow your own Fenugreek Leaves
Fenugreek leaves are also very easy to grow. Since I can only get them online, it’s much simpler for me to grow them, but only in the summer. All you do is:
- Sow some fenugreek seeds.
- Pot them up into 9cm pots when they are seedlings with a multipurpose compost, preferably with added John Innes no. 1. Just google that last bit if you don’t know what it means :).
- Repot them into bigger pots when there are lots of roots showing at the base of the small pots above. Here, with added John Innes no. 2, if you like.
ps: fenugreek sprouts are pretty popular and healthy, but a word of advice, they can give a bad body odour!
Stock in Eshkeneh
You can use vegetable or chicken stock, whatever you prefer. Some people use just water, but I think using stock adds depth to your eshkeneh. If you make your own stock, great, if not, use a good shop bought stockpot or cube, no artificial anything.
We tend to have frozen homemade stock at home, but there are always some stockpots handy for when we run out, and because they are also very convenient. These are the ones I use.
One stockpot or stock cube is usually for 500ml (2 cups) of water. So for the amount of liquid here, 1 stock cube or pot plus half a tsp of salt is perfect. But taste it at the end and add more salt, as you like.
How much liquid to use in Eshkeneh?
In this recipe, anything between 625ml (2 1/2 cups) to 750ml (3 cups). To serve 2 people. It is a matter of choice. You can start with less, then, taste and add more water/stock before serving.
Eggs in Persian Onion Soup
Regular, ordinary, chicken or duck eggs will do. Small, medium large – whatever you have at hand. I egg per person is the way to go, but if you fancy more, hey, who am I to argue? Leave them out for Vegan Persian Onion Soup.
The traditional way of adding the eggs, is to stir them into the eggs, forming strands. I do this quite often, as it’s my husband’s preferred way. However, a more elegant way of adding the egg to Eshkeneh, is to gently poach them in the soup, towards the end.
The poached eggs look classy and egg yolk oozing into any dish is heaven on earth. I love it in noodles, rice and soups! The poached egg method is definitely my preferred way when I cater, especially when I’m serving Eshkeneh as an amuse-bouche to unsuspecting clients.
Sour Grape Juice (Abghooreh)
Sour grape juice is just the strained juice of young, unripe grapes, known a verjus or verjuice in the West. It is very sour, but also wth a hint of sweetness. If you have access to young grapes, you can make it as you need it. Specialist stores will stock them, and you will definitely find it online.
Substitute: lemon juice, white or red wine vinegar
The Colour of Eshkeneh
Eshkeneh can range from a light, yellowy green colour to a deep brown. Its colour will depend on
- the amount of shanbalileh (fenugreek leaves) you use. Or not, if you can’t get them.
- the amount of turmeric you use.
- but most of all, in my experience, how much fat you use. The more oil/butter you use, the less the onions and turmeric will catch and brown, as you can see them doing in the video. So, you want a lighter colour soup, use a little more oil to fry the onions. Pretty simple, right?
Let’s get our aprons on!
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Eshkeneh, Persian Onion Soup with Egg and Fenugreek
- 1 large white onion
- 1 small clove garlic
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 large handful fenugreek leaves shanbalileh, methi
- 1 medium potato
- 1 Tbsp EV olive oil
- 1 tsp salted butter
- 625-750 ml (1½ cups – 2 cups) vegetable or chicken stock
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp sour grape juice verjus or 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 eggs
- freshly ground black pepper
- More sour grape juice verjus and lemon juice
- Halve the onion, then slice it thinly.
- Finely chop the garlic.
- Finely chop the fenugreek leaves, stopping short about 2 inches from the end of the stems.
- Chop up the potato into little cubes, as in the video. You can peel the potato or leave it unpeeled, in which case, be sure to scrub it clean.
Let's Cook the Soup
- Heat the oil and butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat, and sauté the onions for 2 minutes.
- Add the garlic, fry for 30 seconds, followed by the bay leaf and turmeric, and fry for another 30 seconds.
- Tip the potato cubes in and stir to coat.
- Follow with the fenugreek leaves, stir, lower the heat all the way down, then cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the stock and salt, increase the heat, then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 8-10 minutes until the potato cubes are cooked.
- Add the sour grape juice and lemon juice, stir and taste. Add a touch of salt if needed. Now, let’s add the eggs.
Method 1 – stirring the eggs in
- Take the bay leaf out.
- Lightly beat the eggs, pour them into the soup, heat still on low. Immediately, using a fork or ladle, swirl the eggs in swirls. It’ll only take a few seconds for the egg to cook. Turn the heat off and serve up. Do not overcook the egg.
Method 2 – poached eggs
- Crack each egg into a small bowl or cup.
- Gently lower the egg into the soup, one at a time, spaced out slightly.
- Cover the saucepan and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the eggs are lightly poached. Serve up, ladling the soup into 2 bowls, and topping with the egg. Be gentle with the eggs.
- Serve with some freshly ground black pepper with some sour grape juice or lemon juice on the side for more tanginess.