At the Union Square Holiday Market you can taste homemade Persian soups dished up by Saeed Pourkay at his Taste of Persia stand. I hung out with Pourkay today and tasted every soup he has. While I was there, other Persians showed up to sample his specialties. I guess the word is out. After all, this may be the first time anyone has ever sold Persian food on the street here in New York.
What brought me to Taste of Persia was the ashreshteh, a warming soup of noodles, beans, and herbs. Thanks to Carol Gillott of Paris Breakfasts for finding it and telling me! Pourkay tops his ashreshteh with crunchy fried garlic, fried mint, kashk (whey), and caramelized onions. A cup of this fragrant stew is enough for lunch, and then some.
Many curious tasters approached Pourkay’s stand while I waited. Pretty much everyone who tried a sample ended up ordering a soup. Pourkay is a friendly ambassador for Persian food, and he enjoys explaining the cuisine to people.
“When someone goes on a long journey, it’s our custom to serve them this soup. It’s supposed to bring good luck,”
he said about the ashreshteh.
“There are many regions of the country, and each one has its own style, its own taste. I’m going to travel around for six months, and then hopefully I will bring the results back to New York.”
Pourkay hopes to open a restaurant here in the future.
Pourkay served me something I’d never tasted before, haleem. Haleem is wheat cooked with onions and turkey, and topped with sugar and ground cinnamon. It’s the Persian equivalent of congee, the savory rice porridge which is traditionally eaten for breakfast all over Asia. Here is a recipe for haleem on the blog Shahrzad.
“In Tehran, when it’s cold, you’ll see people lined up outside of restaurants at 4 am to get their haleem. This is very popular. But it has to cook for eight hours, at least,”
“You must cook the food a long time, slowly, stirring it, paying attention to it, putting love into it. Then when you taste it, it nourishes you.”
I’ll have to go back for more of that nourishment tomorrow, and every day until Christmas, when the Holiday Market ends. Find Taste of Persia at Stall #24, on the East side of the market. Keep up with Taste of Persia on Saeed Pourkay’s facebook page.