Lentil soup – simple, tasty, healthy, hearty and frugal
My Middle Eastern cookery education started with a bang when I moved to Saudi Arabia. Housed on a compound I had access only to a small grocery store. Unless I joined the compound shopping bus trip or asked KP to drive me to the supermarket I had a very limited choice. We shared our apartment with a bachelor (long story) and my batterie de cuisine consisted of a frying pan, a saucepan, a wooden spoon and an inadequate knife. There were three plates, forks, knives and spoons (they’d bought an extra one of each for my arrival). Nearly 18 years on and how things have changed and my kitchen cupboards are full to bursting – but in those pre-childen days, with time on my hands, I did everything the old-fashioned way, from scratch and without the aid of gadgets.
The first recipe I was given was for lentil soup, by a work colleague’s wife (KP’s work colleague as I wasn’t officially allowed to be employed). This guy was flamboyant and known for wearing suits of every colour from light green to pale pink and his wife also dressed up to the nines. However, this soup couldn’t be more modest and it’s part of home cooking throughout the Middle East. Some restaurants serve it free of charge as an appetiser, flavoured with chicken broth made from the bones of meat destined for shawarma.
The handwritten recipe was so simple – sauté 1 chopped onion and 1 chopped carrot in a little olive oil. Add 1 cup of rinsed lentils and 3 cups of water. Simmer for 20 minutes, season to taste and add a teaspoon of cumin and some lemon juice to serve. I haven’t changed it much but use Claudia Roden‘s proportions, stock instead of water and sometimes add celery.
This is the ultimate in low-cost, body-and-spirit-warming comfort food. Homemade stock is good but a quality stock cube is fine (I use Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon). I also like a lot of lemon juice added at the end – but I have ridiculous cravings for lemon. There are many variations of this with spinach or potato for instance. Marrow bone is a fine thing to add and garlic croutons make it luxurious.
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
375g red lentils, washed and drained
2 litres of chicken or vegetable stock (home-made is great but a stock cube is fine)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 lemon, juiced
- Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or stock pot.
- Add the onion and carrot and sauté until the vegetables are soft and the onion is transparent, but do not allow to brown.
- Put the red lentils into the saucepan, followed immediately by the hot stock and stir well. Leave to simmer for about 25 minutes or until the lentils are very soft. Season with salt and pepper.
- Purée with a stick blender, in a food processor or Vitamix, rub through a sieve or crush with a potato masher. Add the cumin and lemon juice to taste. Return to the heat to warm through, then serve.
Pack your lunch.
Soup is so simple to make and really satisfying as a packed lunch. Imagine the aroma and the look on your work colleagues faces as you unscrew the cap of your flask and pour out a cup of warm, fragrant goodness. Chunky vegetable soups are great for using up odds and ends in the fridge and smooth soups like roasted tomato could hardly be easier. If you have a hearty appetite, soup and sandwich make a great combination. I’d suggest smoked turkey ham and mustard on granary bread to go with the recipe below. Pour soup into a wide-mouthed flask and eat with a crunchy, roll of bread.
UAE Saves Week 2013
I’m posting recipes and ideas that are great for packed lunches this week – some are already up on the Cashy.me site if you want to plan ahead. There are other non-food related, practical activities every single day, find out what’s on here and don’t forget to use #UAEsaves on your pics, posts and tweets.
P.S. Vote for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. 14 stellar wine writing posts to choose from, only one vote. Please cast yours now.
What were your first kitchen tools? Do you have a favourite soup recipe?