Original post from September 2018 updated with new pictures August 2020.
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Said to be the oldest pudding in the world Aşure for Turks is a traditional dish associated with the first month of the Islamic year, Muharram and even more notably with the 10th day Aşure günü meaning the day of Ashura: A sombre day marked by many significant events in religious history.
Preparing the pudding on this day symbolizes both death and rebirth for many sects and was especially meaningful for the dervishes of the Bekitaş Sufi order.
The most popular belief of the origin of the porridge-like dessert is of the prophet Nuh – or Noah and the great flood. As the tides were receding and the stores were dwindling what was left of the ark was pulled together and the pudding was born.
Mary Işın's book ‘Sugar and Spice' which has a whole chapter dedicated to the celebrated desert describes an Islamic legend of wheat porridge being the first food eaten by Adam and Eve after being expelled from the garden of paradise. Cooked in a pot on an open fire in the valleys around mount Arafat along with several fascinating references and occurrences of wheat-based desserts through history.
It's not surprising therefore that there are so many different recipes for a dish so steeped in history and we can suppose that there can be no such thing as the perfect recipe for Ashure.
It seems to come in 1001 ways. One person may like it runny others not. Some think it should remain plain others incline towards the floral and refreshing tones of rose water.
How you enjoy and make your Aşure comes down to experience – a little experimentation and observation of how others make theirs, the good, the bad and the ugly is the only way to truly find your perfect pudding.
There are no fast rules although it would be hard to imagine the sweet porridge-like dessert without the wheat grains of course.
I favour subtle background tastes of spices including. Mahlep, cinnamon and cloves and the zesty kick of chopped lemon peel (Minus the pith).
I put my beans & bulgur to soak the night before and cook each of them separately but only to ‘just cooked' I find by finishing them off together with the dried fruit they come together better but still retain their individual merits. Creamy wheat, golden chickpeas, fava beans with a little bite and fruit that is succulent and seeps its sweet nectar.
Grains used for Aşure vary a lot. We add split fava beans to ours but outside of our family, I don't know anyone else that does. Some use bulgur wheat, such as the recipe influenced by the Dervish monastery (Tekke) recipe published by Turkish chef Sahrap Soysal call for fine bulgur but I've never tried this.
I also add saffron-infused milk in the last 10 minutes of cooking an idea I picked up from both Zerde. – A beautiful yellow milky rice pudding and the Tekke Aşure. This imparts some flavour but also keeps the pudding looking a little fresher.
I learnt early on that if you throw in the darker dried fruits and nuts the dish becomes a not very appealing colour. (For this purpose I also save the figs and walnuts for the dressing)
Of course, Aşure doesn't have to be eaten just during the religious month of Muharram, the rich, sweet pudding was enjoyed regularly throughout the year in the Ottoman palaces.