Friday, July 09, 2010

Middle Eastern Cooking

You'd think that since I spent five months in the desert eating food from the Syrian restaurant down the road, I'd be hankering for Chinese or Mexican or something and would shy away from Middle Eastern for awhile.  But that ain't the way this stomach rolls.  No-siree-Bob.  My stomach was all "BACON!" for a week and then it was back to "where's the Fattoush?"  So every now and then I whip out the old Middle East Cookbook the Dane got waaaaay back in the day and throw something together.  Usually a lentil soup, because no one does lentils like Semitic speaking peoples.  One of the other great things about lentil soup is that it is cheap and versatile.  Okay, that's two things.  But if you have lentils and an onion, you have soup.  If you have more stuff, you can fancy it up.  Me, I had a bunch of lemons in the house the other day.  I whipped up this soup and then made lemon bars for desert.  This house is free of scurvy, but we may all end up with cavities.

In this recipe, the lentils called for are dried red lentils.  They are little tiny red beans and they rock.  No soaking, no precooking, chuck 'em in boiling water and an hour later: SOUP!  You find them in Denmark as røde linser and when they show up in Netto at 10 kr a bag, I stock up.  They never go bad as long as you keep them dry.  You can find them at the other major chains in DK, often in the organic aisle.  You could probably get away with using brown lentils/grønne linser.  Lord knows I'll use any damn beans I can get my hands on.

1 1/2 cups red lentils
6 cups meat or chicken stock or water
1 medium-sized onion, grated or really finely chopped because my grater was dirty
1 tsp ground cumin (spiskummen in Denmark)
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp lemon juice (aprox. half of a lemon, keep the other half for making lemon wedges to serve along side)

For topping:
2 large onions
1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped.

1. Rinse your lentils.
2. Bring stock or water to a boil in a large pot.  Add lentils and onion.  Return to a slow boil, cover and simmer over low heat for 45-60 minutes.  Do not stir during cooking.
2b. While the soup is cooking, prepare the topping.  First halve the peeled onions lengthwise and slice thinly to make semi-circles.  Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the onions over medium heat until golden brown.  I basically caramelized the buggers because I got side-tracked while baking lemon bars, and it turned out fantastic.  Add the garlic and cook a minute longer.
3. At the end of an hour, the lentils and onion will be very soft, but if you want a finer soup, use a blender.
4. Add cumin and salt and pepper to taste.  I didn't need to add any salt because I used bouillon cubes.  If a thinner soup is desired, add water to achieve desired consistency.  Stir in lemon juice and heat gently until bubbling.
5. Serve in deep bowls with the onion topping, called ta'leya.  Have lemon wedges and olive oil on hand in case someone like me wants a bit more citric acid and oil in their diet.  Also, a nice loaf of French or Italian bread, heated up in a 425 F/220 C oven for 10 minutes wouldn't be culturally appropriate, but would be damn tasty.

This particular recipe supposedly came from Egypt, but you'll find a gazillion of lentil soup recipes throughout the region and everyone's mother-in-law insists hers is the best.


  1. Anonymous4:23 PM

    Sounds a lot like the Moroccan Harira soup that's everywhere there for a few cents a bowl. Yum!

    Also, I keep a lot of lentils on stock, we eat them yes, but they're also in my Armageddon larder, for when we're all going to die, but need a hearty last meal.

  2. My m-i-l is visiting at the moment, from Iran, but I'm guessing the lentil soups aren't all that different.

    Her son claims hers is the best.

    Wanna come and test it?

  3. Anonymous9:09 AM

    I've been doing a whole lot of Middle Eastern cooking myself. I never thought I'd like it but I love it!



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