Although chickpeas and beans don’t usually belong in a pudding, they are core ingredients in one of the oldest – and, some say, one of the most delicious – desserts in the world.
It was a cold, drizzly January day in Istanbul and I was searching for inspiration at Goreme, an old-school dessert shop in the Kurtuluş neighbourhood. Renowned for its oven-baked pudding and consistently excellent dairy-based desserts, they also offer what is thought to be the oldest sweet treat known to mankind: ashure.
According to Islamic tradition, ashure – which is frequently dubbed “Noah’s Pudding” – was prepared as a celebratory dish by the prophet’s family after surviving the great flood and washing up on Mount Ararat, on the fringes of what is today the north-eastern borderlands of Turkey. Legend has it that this cornucopia of a dessert, which usually includes around a dozen different grains, fruits, nuts and legumes, was concocted by combining whatever ingredients were still left on the Ark.
The resulting dish is mildly sweet, rich and savoury with notes of fruit. When prepared hot, ashure takes on a comforting consistency resembling porridge; when served cold it congeals and takes on more of a custard-like texture.
Apart from bearing the lofty distinction as the world’s oldest dessert, ashure retains important spiritual significance today across Anatolia, the lands comprising the majority of modern-day Turkey.
“Ashure means ’10’ in Arabic and refers to the 10th day in the month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. The dessert is cooked in homes during that week and distributed to friends, symbolising the spread of love and abundance,” wrote Vogue and GQ Turkey food editor Cemre Torun in an article for Fool Magazine, noting that ashure is “perhaps the most symbolic dish in this part of the world”.