Eshkeneh is a classic but unpretentious soup, with a short and easy-to-assemble list of ingredients, that can be prepared in about 30 minutes.
While Eshkeneh is often referred to as Persian onion soup, and undoubtedly an onion is involved, I think the true star is fenugreek leaves, with their mighty strong scent and flavor profile. The other significant ingredient is eggs, either beaten and drizzled into the hot broth or dropped in whole and poached just long enough to maintain their soft creamy yolks.
More on fenugreek later.
As with many dishes in Persian cuisine, you will find local and regional variations of this soup. While the onion, potato, fenugreek, and eggs remain mostly the same, you will find other ingredients such as yogurt, cilantro, sometimes beans, and even quince.
Truth be told, this was the first time I have prepared and eaten Eshkeneh! Growing up, somehow this brilliant soup didn’t make it into our household’s repertoire of dishes. My guess is that because this dish does not have roots in the Caspian Sea region, where my parents are from, it was unfamiliar to them.
I have prepared two similar versions in the recipe below, one with and one without tomato and tomato paste. Honestly, I ended up loving them both as they each offered their own unique flavor profile.
Fenugreek is cultivated and used worldwide, but Iranians, Indians, and Pakistanis tend to use it the most. While other cultures use fenugreek both as a seed and herb, Iranians rely primarily on the plant’s leaves, fresh or dried.
Fenugreek gives off a strong yet sweet smell, and you may be surprised to learn that it’s bitter in taste. When used in rice dishes or stews, it adds a distinguishable depth and flavor. However, a word of caution: a little goes very far, and too much of this herb will make your dish bitter and unpleasant.
The other onion soup…
I don’t know about you, but when I think of onion soup, predictably, I think of the classic French onion soup that we all adore. (Unless, of course, you are not a big fan of onions!)
While I love the classic French onion soup, I typically prepare a non-traditional version of it at home. Long ago in Boulder, Colorado, where I attended a plant-based culinary school, we were taught how to make this classic soup. As you know, authentic French onion soup uses beef broth and melted Gruyere cheese on a crusty slice of bread that tops the soup. When you eliminate the beef broth and cheese, you have to get creative to replace the missing flavors.
The secret ingredient in our vegan version of French onion soup was patience! The onions were slowly caramelized for 2-3 hours over low heat until they were reduced to an intoxicatingly dark and rich version of their former selves. Then, a hearty homemade vegetable/mushroom stock along with a splash of sherry wine and a small amount of tamari would bring this soup to life.
This vegan French onion soup became my go-to version to such an extent that – as a Persian chef – I started to refer to it as “Persian” onion soup!
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon turmeric, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
- 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon all purpose flour, or rice flour
- 2 tablespoons fenugreek leaves, dried
- 4 cups chicken broth, or vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon salt, adjust to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 4 eggs
- In a medium-sized pot, saute the onions with the olive oil over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes.
- Add turmeric and ground black pepper and saute for about 1 min.
- Add the diced potatoes and gently toss them around to get them coated with the onions and turmeric.
- Add the flour and fenugreek leaves and continue to stir for another minute. Take extra care to not overly saute the fenugreek as it can turn bitter.
- Pour the chicken broth over the potatoes, add the lemon juice, and stir.
- Increase the flame to high, and bring the soup to a gentle simmer.
- Now reduce the flame, cover, and cook for about 20-25 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked to your liking.
- Drop the eggs one at a time into the soup for whole poached egg effect. Alternatively, you can lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl and drizzle them into the hot broth while gently stirring.
- Poach the eggs in the soup for about 5 minutes for a nice soft-boiled consistency.
- Serve hot with flat bread and Torshi (pickled vegetables).