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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Middle Eastern Red Lentil Soup

About 10 years ago, when my younger two kids were pre-schoolers we belonged to The Moms & Kids Club. It was a large group of women living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with kids of various ages who would get together & do all sorts of stuff: from playdates, outings and arts & crafts with the kids to grown-up discussion groups, Halloween costume swaps, craft projects and recipe exchanges while other moms cared for the kids in a play room. If someone had a baby, a death in the family, an illness or surgery, they could count on dinner being brought over a few nights a week for as long as you needed it. One of my favorite events was a soup exchange - six of us each made multiple batches of our favorite soup in the biggest stock pot we had. We chatted and exchanged recipes, then filled up our own plastic containers with the other five soups. We served one for dinner that night & chilled the rest for later in the week - Brilliant! It was a magical time and I really miss that group. Some of us still get together and rent a beach house on the east coast every fall (just the moms, no kids!) for a long weekend of shopping, eating, drinking and laughing. The recipe for this soup came from my friend Margaretta from this group. Her husband was from Egypt & I think it was a family recipe. We didn't keep in touch when we both moved out of state, but I'm sure she wouldn't mind sharing.

Middle Eastern Red Lentil Soup
(serves 6-8)

1 large onion, chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1½ tsp cumin
1½ tsp ground coriander
pinch of ground cayenne
1¾ cups split red lentils
bunch of celery leaves, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 quarts vegetable stock
salt & pepper to taste
juice of one lemon
sour cream (optional)
finely minced carrot (optional)
seeded and finely minced serrano pepper (optional)
In a large soup pot, soften onion in oil over medium heat for 2-3 minutes then add garlic, cumin, coriander and cayenne. Stir and toast the spices for a minute or two. Stir in the lentils, celery leaves and carrot. Cover with stock and bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pot to release any spices that may have stuck. Reduce heat and simmer 35-45 minutes or until lentils are soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. Puree soup in batches in a blender, or use a stick blender directly in the pot. Stir in lemon juice and adjust consistency of soup with water or additional stock if necessary - it shouldn't be too thick. Garnish with about 1 tsp each of the sour cream carrots & serrano peppers, if desired. About 100 calories per 8oz serving.
Almost as an afterthought, I served this with a broiled romaine lettuce wedge topped with some Lemony Tahini Dressing leftover from yesterday. If you've never tried this, give it a shot! The lettuce gets a little warm & slightly wilted, but stays crunchy and the cut edges caramelize a little. 
Just slice a head of romaine lettuce in half along the whole length from the core up, then brush it with olive oil or some of the dressing on the cut side. Place it on a sheet pan cut side up, and into the broiler on high. After 3-4 minutes top with tomatoes and feta, drizzle with a little more dressing and put it back in the broiler for a minute or two just until the feta starts to melt. 

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