Pamiri Aush

Last Friday I learned how to make Pamiri aush, homemade noodle soup.  This vegan dish may be served at lunch or as an extra meal between lunch and supper in the late afternoon.  If you speak the Shughni or Wakhi languages, you don’t speak of “eating” or “drinking” aush: rather, you use a different verb altogether that puts it in a category of its own. The best English translation I can think of is the word “slurp”. Like most food of the Pamir mountains, aush is simple, wholesome, and home-grown. The cooking process is not as simple: it is a labour-intensive activity that can take hours of work and is usually done by several people.

When my friend and I, along with two of her relatives, made aush, wefirst got a stew going in a separate pot by frying onions, potatoes, fresh cilantro, fresh and dried mint, and tomato paste—the typical flavours of many Afghan dishes. A few rehydrated dried apricots were thrown into the pot to add a unique tartness and sweetness. Meanwhile, beans and chickpeas simmered together in a pressure cooker on top of the wood stove; they would be later combined with the vegetable mixture. This stew, a type of qorma, would be mixed with the cooked noodles just before serving.

The noodles in Pamiri aush are made from stone-ground pea flour: not garden peas or chickpeas, but a different variety grown in the mountains that somewhat resembles a mung bean.  They have a somewhat gritty texture and fresh, whole-grainy taste.

To make the noodles, my friend used a few simple tools. The first was an empty rice sack. She removed the stitches from two sides of the sack, opened it, and spread it out on the floor of her work space to keep the carpet clean. On top of this, she placed a large wooden cutting board and a long, thin cylinder of wood that she used as a rolling pin. She also gathered a large cutting knife and a plastic basin.

She made the noodle dough simply by mixing the pea flour with water in the basin and kneading with her hand until stiff.  Then she flattened a portion with her fingers, using more flour to keep it from sticking, and rolled it out with the rolling pin, rolling it over itself around the pin.

When the dough was just a few millimeters thick, she took the knife and cut it into strips in one long, swift motion. I asked about the length of the noodles: too long, she said, and they would fall apart; too short, and it’s just not as interesting. Most of the noodles were about a hand breadth.

When all the noodles were cut, she dropped them a handful at a time into a big pot of boiling water and stirred them with the handle of a metal ladle to keep them from sticking to each other. They only boiled for about two or three minutes before she turned the stove off and carefully scooped the foam off the top of the broth.

Finally, she poured the whole pot of bean-and-vegetable qorma into the pot of noodles. She stirred, added some salt to taste, and the soup was ready. It was served in large bowls (by Western standards, they are more like serving bowls) and set them on a plastic tablecloth on the floor, along with round loaves of whole-wheat naan fresh from the oven. Individually, we sprinkled dried green pepper and powdered, dehydrated yoghurt into our soup—adding a bit of a kick along with a smooth tartness. We sat on the floor and slurped our soup with special aush spoons—large ladles with a pointed lip by which we could pour the soup into our mouths. The flavours blended together into one wholesome, satisfying treat. I finished my entire bowl.

I don’t always have access to mountain pea flour, but I have often made the ‘city’ version of aush at home, using spaghetti noodles. When sick or needing to warm up, there’s nothing quite like it!

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