Vegetarian Aush

I have very warm memories of enjoying aush during the very chilly winter I spent in Kabul while doing my thesis research.  Every time I see a recipe for pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans, Italian style), my mind wanders back to the hot, filling Afghan dish that our wonderful cook, Habib, used to make once a week (usually Thursdays for lunch) for just a few months out of the year, unless he could be prevailed upon to make a repeat or an out-of-season effort (usually not).  Aush is basically noodles and beans in a thick sauce, accompanied by toppings including a kind of ground meat chili, various herbs or herb chutneys, and yogurt.  I believe there is a Persian version as well, with slightly different ingredients and garnishes.

Although I couldn’t hope to recreate Habib’s aush, here is my humble vegetarian version.  It’s a great warming meal for winter, but also an any-season meal if you reduce the noodles and increase the veggie content using seasonal vegetables.  While aush is an excellent one pot meal, you can also serve salad or naan (flatbread) on the side.

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

2 small onions, finely chopped

4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

Leaves from 1/2 bunch kale, stemmed and roughly chopped (a chiffonade works)

Stems from 1 bunch of kale, finely chopped (I hate to waste the stems)

3 or 4 scallions, chopped (green and white parts)

1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped (don’t use dried parsley)

2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped

1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped

1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (or use dried beans which have been washed, soaked and pressure-cooked)

1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed (or use dried chick peas which have been washed, soaked and pressure-cooked)

2 quarts vegetable stock (I also substitute the water used to soak/pressure cook the dried beans/peas)

1/2 to 2/3 lb spaghetti, uncooked, broken into thirds

For garnish (to taste, but I wouldn’t skip the yogurt):

Chopped herbs (parsley, cilantro, mint, chives)

Chopped scallions

Mint chutney

Coriander chutney

Green chilli chutney

Yogurt or sour cream (go low-fat or fat-free for an even healthier meal)

Directions

1.  In a 4- or 5-quart heavy-bottomed pot, saute the onions, garlic, kale stems, salt, pepper, turmeric and red pepper flakes until the vegetables are sweating.  Add the kale leaves, parsley, dill, mint and scallions and saute for a few minutes, until the kale begins to wilt.

2.  Add the kidney beans and chick peas and mix well.  Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer.  Continue simmering, uncovered, for about 45 minutes.

3.  The sauce should still be somewhat thin in consistency.  If not, add water or vegetable stock and bring back to a simmer.  Add the uncooked spaghetti.  Continue simmering for about 15 minutes, until the pasta is cooked.  The sauce should thicken as the pasta cooks.  If the aush is too watery, stir in a tablespoon or two of flour to thicken the sauce.

4.  Serve in bowls with the garnishes of your choice.

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