In 2008, Hamed Allahyari was living in Iran with roommates who were all fed up with takeaway food. Allahyari picked up the phone and called his mother, Farideh. She guided him in cooking Ash Reshteh – a traditional Persian noodle soup. He served it to his roommates, who wouldn’t believe he cooked it.
The roommates asked where and from whom he bought the soup actually cooked. It was a hit and that sparked something in Allahyari that he sought to continue.
“The feeling I had was great. When you feed your friends, they are happy and surprised – I liked that,” says Allahyari. “I got more energy to cook and challenged myself with hard dishes. 15 people there to cook,” he says.
Shortly after his first Ash Reshteh success, Allahyari worked his way up from kitchen hand to chef at a large Tehran mall restaurant. With two friends he opened his own café, which was “very successful”. But in 2012, his professional momentum faltered – and his life changed – when he was forced to flee Iran. Allahyari’s safety was jeopardized when authorities learned of his atheism – which is illegal in Iran. He immediately left with his partner (who was pregnant at the time).
They came to Australia by boat via Indonesia. After four months in the Christmas Island detention center, he finally ended up in Melbourne. First he cooked at the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, then he ran cooking classes at Free to Feed, a social enterprise run by refugees and asylum seekers. More than 2500 people attended Allahyari’s cooking classes. “My dream is for everyone in Australia to try Persian food,” he says.
In 2019, Allahyari opened SalamaTea, a Persian café in Sunshine, west Melbourne. The café is run entirely by refugees and asylum seekers. “I’m telling you, we’re not just a business to make money. The goal is to host guests who have never tasted Persian food.”
“In my culture, we call guests ‘God’s guests,’ and you have to treat guests better than you treat yourself.”
Jane Morrow, Publishing Director of Murdoch Books, visited SalamaTea one day in 2021. “She asked if I had ever thought of doing a cookbook.”
“My dream is for everyone in Australia to try Persian food.”
He had actually wanted to publish one since 2017, but wasn’t so sure of his English skills. “I’m good at talking, but I’m not a writer,” he said.
“[The Covid] Lockdown was an opportunity for me to do something different.” So, in partnership with Murdoch Books and food writer Dani Valent, Allahyari began translating his free-to-feed cooking lessons into recipes for readers. The result is a cookbook with the apt name Salamatiwhich means “cheers” or “to health” in Farsi.
The book begins with Allahyari’s connection to food, information about Persian food culture, essential ingredients and different cooking techniques. There are stories behind many of the dishes, which include brunch, dips, appetizers, sides, salads, soups, meats and vegetarian entrees. There are also many recipes for sweets and drinks. The book also highlights the beauty of Persian banquets.
Salamati greets readers with a heartfelt message: “Dedicated with love to my country and the people of Iran.”
“I love the Iranians and I love the culture. I love my country. I feel like not many people know my country; they know the government. But not the people or our hospitality.” This book is another way Allahyari can make a difference.
And things come full circle when, in the book, Allahyari shares a recipe for ash-reshteh — the Persian noodle soup that started it all.
Ash Reshteh is one of the most popular soups in Iran. It is served on all occasions, from Persian New Year celebrations to treating the common cold (due to its nutritional value). It is also a common ‘nazri’ dish – cooked food given to others as a help or blessing. This could be given to family or friends to help those in need or offered as a symbol of condolences.
- ½ cup dried red kidney beans or 400g can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- ½ cup dried chickpeas or 400g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- ½ cup dried brown lentils or 400g tin brown lentils, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup olive oil
- 2 brown onions (1 diced, 1 thinly sliced)
- 5 Garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tbsp ground turmeric
- 60 g Finely chopped coriander, stalks and leaves
- 40 g flat-leaf parsley, stalks and leaves finely chopped
- 250 g Garlic chives, finely chopped
- 200 grams English spinach
- 250 g Reshte Ash (Thick Persian Wheat Noodles)
- 2 tbsp Salt
- 2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- 15 g dried mint
- 200 grams liquid kashk (or plain yogurt) plus extra for serving
- If using dried beans and legumes, soak the kidney beans, chickpeas, and lentils separately in cold water overnight. The next day, drain the beans and legumes, then place in three saucepans and cover with cold water. Cook the kidney beans and chickpeas over medium-high heat until tender, 30-40 minutes, and cook the lentils over medium-high heat, until tender, 20-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat ½ cup olive oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the diced onion and cook until golden, about 2 minutes, then add half the garlic and half the turmeric and stir until fragrant.
- Add 2 liters of hot water to the pan along with the chopped herbs and spinach and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
- Drain the kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils and add to the pan along with the noodles. Let the soup simmer for 15 minutes or until the noodles are done. Season with salt and pepper, then remove from the stove.
- Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the sliced onion and sauté for 5 minutes until golden brown. Stir the remaining turmeric until fragrant, then transfer to a bowl.
- Add the remaining garlic to the pan and sauté for 2 minutes until golden brown, then transfer to a bowl. Add the dried mint to the pan and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
- Divide the soup between plates and toss the kashk into the soup. Garnish each bowl with the fried onion, garlic and mint and serve with the extra kashk on the side.
• You can find liquid cash in supermarkets in the Middle East.