For a Turkish person, not having enough food to eat is as unthinkable as not being able to breathe. So imagine Noah’s delight when the ark finally came to rest near Ararat in eastern Turkey after the great flood, in finding enough leftovers to create the gourmet delight known as aşure. Also called Noah’s Ark Pudding, it’s made from a combination of chickpeas, walnuts, apricots, barley and sultanas. I first came across aşure more years ago than I can remember. After only one spoonful of this mix which resembles congee in texture, I was hooked on the combination of healthy grains mixed with dried fruit.
Much as I love it, even I have my limits as to how much of it I can eat. When I lived in Kayseri, in central Anatolia, in 2002 I worked at a large government university. Everyday I’d eat lunch at the yemekhane, or dining hall, with my husband and colleagues. The menu changed every week and one day I was excited to see they had aşure on the menu. When I told my colleagues how much I loved it they offered to bring me some. By the end of the week I had five enormous jars full of aşure. There was so much we started to give it away to our neighbours rather than see it go to waste.
Luckily we didn’t have any children, because we might have got more than we bargained for with each gift of aşure. In the past, Turkish women with marriageable daughters made Noah’s Ark Pudding in spring and then sent the girls out to give it to neighbours with unmarried sons. It was an unspoken form of matchmaking everyone knew about but never mentioned.
Aşure also has an important place in religious history. In the 17th century, the great Muslim traveller Evliya Çelebi observed that it was always cooked on the 10th day of the Muslim month Muharrem, which is the first month of the Islamic calendar. In Islam it honours the prophet Moses, and it is a special day of observance in Shia Islam. In addition, members of the Alevi sect cook and share aşure after fasting and abstaining from eating meat in commemoration of the Battle of Karbala. On this 10th day of Muharrem in 680AD, their leader Mohammed’s grandson Hussein ibn Ali and his followers, were murdered.
Known as The Day of Aşure, this date also figures in both non- and pre-Islamic beliefs. In early Christianity it’s connected to the idea that Adam was accepted by God because he repented. In Judaism it’s related to the story that the sea was divided because the nation of Israel was delivered from captivity and Pharaoh’s army was destroyed. Then there’s the name, which celebrates the belief that Noah’s Ark survived this great flood.
More generally, aşure is considered an offering of peace, safety, and spiritual nourishment. In a table of desserts rich in dairy products, aşure is one of the few Turkish puddings that contains no animal products. Consequently, it’s suggested that serving aşure is a statement against violence and bloodshed.
Whatever its origins, aşure is delicious. I’d like to eat it more often than I do, but I have to confess I’m a much better eater than I am a cook. I don’t have the patience for recipes with more than five components and I read once that each aşure ingredient has to be added separately and carefully stirred round to ensure the resulting mix is clear in colour, not murky or grey. The home cooked version is the best, and I can highly recommend Ozlem Warren’s recipe if you want to make it for yourself. Get cooking!
You can find more information about holy days in Turkey here.
Come and explore Turkish culture with me in my book Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries.