We have embarked on the month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar that is referred to as the month of “Aşure” in Turkey. It is considered sacred by Muslims.
You might wonder why this month is special and why you keep running into a dessert called “Aşure” during this month, so allow me to explain the significance behind this as well as some of the practices during this month that are unique to Turkey.
There are countless beliefs and practices in Turkey regarding the month of Aşure. According to popular belief, when the Prophet Noah’s ark settled on land following a flood, the last remaining ingredients on board the ship were used to prepare a soup and that was how Aşure, the dessert that is made to celebrate this month, was first prepared.
Aşure is also prepared in honor of Husain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. I will touch upon this as I list the significance of the month. The 10th day of Muharram is the day on which many prophets were granted many blessings. Other than being the day that Prophet Noah’s ark landed on soil following the flood, on this day the repentance of Prophet Adam was accepted, Prophet Idris was taken up to heaven, Prophet Abraham was saved from the fire which he was thrust into by Nimrod, Prophet David’s repentance was accepted, Prophet Job regained his health, Prophet Moses and his tribe were saved from the Red Sea, Prophet Jonah was saved from a whale and Prophet Jesus was taken to heaven. The skies were created on the day of Aşure and as it is noted by Sahih Bukhari and in other sources that the Prophet Muhammad advised fasting on the day of Aşure, as he himself fasted on this day.
This day, as I mentioned earlier, also coincides with one of the saddest days in Islamic history -- the day on which Husain, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, was killed in the city of Karbala. In the province of Konya, water is not consumed from a glass cup on this day. In Konya, in the middle of the month of Muharram -- on the 15th day -- at least 10 food items are purchased for each home. It is widely believed that the blessings from the food purchased on this day will last for an entire year.
Aşure, the dessert, is a dish that is loved by one and all. In Turkey it is prepared with bulgur, rice and other legumes in addition to its main ingredient, dövme (hulled wheat). It is believed that whoever has sacrificed an animal must prepare aşure and distribute it, as a small part of the sacrificed animal -- either its tail fat or actual meat -- is added into the aşure. Although there are different numbers of ingredients for the dessert in each region, any ingredient that is seen as being appropriate can be added to aşure. Even if 40 different ingredients are added, this dish still remains a light dessert that is delicious. As a sweetener, one can use grape molasses or honey instead of sugar, as is the case in some regions.
There are various practices while preparing aşure throughout Turkey. When beginning to cook aşure, half of Surah Yasin, chapter 36 of the Quran, is read. When the dessert is completed, the other half is read. In addition, when aşure is cooked, the pot is covered with a tray and the steam that accumulates on the tray is believed to alleviate eye pain.
Around Bilecik, corn is added into the dessert as this is seen as a representation of Fatima’s -- the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter -- milk. Uşak, in particular, has a very interesting tradition: The poorer women in a neighborhood are invited to a dinner called “üç tencere” (three pots). In Antakya, two types of aşure are distributed -- keşkek (made with meat) and the conventional sweet version. When distributing aşure, even though typically most plates or dishes are returned to owners with an appropriate reciprocal dish, aşure dishes are intentionally returned empty and unwashed.
Aşure is a flavorsome dessert. And this month you are sure to run across it. When I served aşure to a guest who was visiting Konya, I recall him saying, “I have never in my life had such a delicious and light dessert made from wheat.”
*Nevin Halıcı is a columnist with the Zaman daily’s weekend supplements.
(serves 4 plus)
Preparation time: 90 minutes
1 tsp saffron
1 tbsp rosewater
1/4 cup chickpeas
1/4 cup white beans
1 cup dövme (hulled wheat)
1/4 cup of rice
10 cups of water
A quarter cup of yellow raisins
2 dried figs
3-4 dried apricots
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup peanuts
Preparation: Soak the chickpeas and beans in drinking water for eight hours. Boil this together with the dövme and allow this mixture to sit until the next day. Separately place the saffron in the rosewater and soak overnight. The next day, add the rice to the dövme mixture and cook on the stove on low heat until all of the ingredients become soft. When soft, add the sliced figs, apricots and raisins and continue to boil until very tender. Add the rosewater with saffron, a few almonds and the sugar. When the mixture thickens and resembles a pudding, distribute into small dishes and allow to cool. Once cool, garnish with roasted walnuts, peanuts, remaining almonds and pomegranate bits.