Legend has it that when the Great Flood was finally over and the prophet Noah could bring his ship to land again, it was the tenth day of the first month of the lunar new year, Muharrem. His people went through the ship’s hold and found two handfuls of wheat, a handful of rice, half a handful each of chickpeas and white beans, a handful each of raisins, figs, apricots, walnuts, and almonds, and a good dollop of honey.
To celebrate Muharrem and their safe landing, they cooked all these handfuls together over a roaring fire, and it became a lovely sweet pudding. Ever since that day, the legend tells us, Muslims have made ashurah during the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Muharrem. They cook huge pots of it, and give it away to their neighbors and the poor.
In Turkey, children learn from folk-beliefs that the first day of Muharram is the day that Adam arrived on the earth; the day he met Eve; the day Ibrahim and Ismail built the Kaaba; the day Yusuf was pulled from the well; the day Jacob got his sight back; the day the sea parted for the Bani Israel; the day Musa received the Tablets; and the day Yunus was released from the whale. Some scholars assert that the only historically accurate thing on this list is the parting of the sea, since we know for sure that the Jews were found fasting on the Day of Ashurah for that reason. Yet, even if this is only a folk tradition, it is beneficial as an occasion to repeat the stories of many of the prophets God has sent to awaken mankind.
How to make ashurah:
Put 1/4c chickpeas in a bowl and cover with water. Do the same with 1/4c white northern beans. (soaking breaks down oligosaccharides) Put 1C brown rice and 1C whole wheat berries mixed in another bowl and cover them with water. (Soaking grains greatly increases the fiber available to the body) Soak all these overnight.
The next day, empty the rice and wheat, with their soaking water, into a large stainless steel pan. Add 3 quarts of water and 2 teaspoons of salt. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to the lowest possible heat and cook for several hours. Stir it frequently. If it starts getting too thick, add more hot water.
In another small saucepan, drain and rinse the chickpeas, discarding the water, and cover them with three cups of water. Cover the pan and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to the lowest and cook for at least an hour until they are tender. Drain them and set them aside.
In a third saucepan, drain and rinse the beans. Discarding the water, and cover them with three cups of water. Cook for about an hour or until tender. Drain them and set them aside.
When the rice and wheat are cooked so long that the grains have started to fall apart and the water is thick and milky, add sugar until it is sweet enough for you. If you want you can use honey instead. Add the chickpeas and the beans, and keep simmering over the lowest possible heat. Stir it often to be sure it isn’t sticking. Add more hot water any time you think it is too thick.
Now comes the fun part! Just start adding things….the grated rind of a large lemon. Two tablespoons of cinnamon, ½ cup of raisins, ½ c of dried cherries, ½ c of currants, ½ c of dried blueberries, ½ c of chopped dried apricots, ½ c of chopped dried peaches, ½ c of chopped figs, the scraped insides of one vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract but the vanilla bean is so much more fun! Let this all simmer gently for another hour or so. Turn off the heat and let everything sit for the rest of the day unless you just can’t wait. When it is cooled, add ½ c chopped walnuts, ½ c chopped almonds, ½ c chopped pecans, 1/4c chopped roasted cashews (don’t use peanuts and don’t use raw cashews) 1/4c pine nuts. Then, when you serve it up in bowls, add a few drops of pure rosewater to each bowl. The next day after it has been in the refrigerator all night, you might find it has gotten very thick….Just add good drinking water to thin it down a little. You will find that even though there are lots of flavors in there, each one comes through on its own….the lemon rind, the vanilla, the cinnamon, the rose.
Here are some other things people add to their ashurah: grated coconut, pomegranate seeds, chopped orange, grated apple.
There are different versions of ashurah all over the world. See http://www.superluminal.com/cookbook/essay_ashura.html