Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Lunch/Dinner: Red Lentil Soup
Today was luckily a day off for me and it turned into a self-made snow day. I haven't left the house nor do I plan on it. See:
Ok, maybe I slightly exaggerate what it's really like outside, BUT given that my apartment feels like it is heated by a single candle, it's still pretty frick'n cold. So it's soup day for me.
In keeping with cheap and easy eats, I figured lentil soup would be a good idea . There are two types of lentil soups in Egypt: red lentil and brown lentil. The red one is the famous one that everyone seems obsessed with, so I will make that one. But the brown lentil soup is my favourite. I'll make my mom's recipe for that one another time.
The red lentil soup recipe comes from my grandmother. My aunt taught it to me a while ago, though she confessed one thing to me. During family dinners, my father always claims that he is very sensitive to celery. No one really understands this sensitivity. Any restaurant we go to takes longer than usual to complete an order because there can be no trace whatsoever of the evil celery. My aunt took this simple recipe and adapted it to her tastes, which included the infamous celery. During one dinner, my dad was thrilled to have his favourite soup. Sadly, the new version was not for him. He made note of all things wrong with it, but he never noticed the celery. Which confirms my life-long suspicion that this celery thing is nothing but a hoax.
In my purist ways, I've gone back to the traditional red lentil soup. Lentils play a huge role in the Egyptian diet, either the brown or red variety. The brown lentils are known as Egyptian lentils; but both are equally popular. Lentils originate from the Near East and the Meditteranean regions. There are lentils found in archeaological digs dating back 8000 years BC. Once again, lentils have also been found in pharaonic tombs. They also make an appearence in Bibilical stories.
Lentils have been around for so long because they are easy to grow, (in sandy soil and sun), easy to prepare and above all fill you up enormously. They are the perfect protein substitute to most vegetarian diets. Apparently lentils get about 60% of their calories from protein. And they are high in fibre. They are also a staple in traditional peasant food in Egypt, so you find it in soup as well as the other national dish: Koshari. This is a popular meal throughout the country that is a layering of rice, lentils, fried onions and a tomato sauce. The best part about lentils are how cheap and readily available they are; whether here in Canada or back in Egypt.
I love them too. But I couldn't eat them all the time. Though a hunk of fresh bread and a bowl of lentil soup is a great dinner when it's cold outside. But some words of caution: if you are of the constitution that gets easily bloated; you may float away after eating too many lentils.
This soup so simple to make and takes less than an hour to cook. You can find this soup on just about every menu in Egypt; from a 4 star hotel restaurant to a dive in a small town. The main ingredients are simply lentils, ground cumin, lemon juice and an onion.
To keep it simple, I cook it with water, though you can use chicken stock instead. Also, some variations include potato, fresh coriander and garlic; all of which are tasty, but if you don't have any of those around, this recipe is easier. I like the porridge-like consistency of this soup and it usually is served that way, but if you want it to be more soupey, add more water after the lentils are cooked.
Total Cooking Time (including preparation): 40 minutes
Yield: 4 persons
1 tablespoon of olive oil or butter
1 white onion
1.5 cups of dry red lentils
4 cups of water
1-2 tablespoons of ground cumin
1. Dice onion
2. In a medium sized pot on high heat, add olive oil/butter
3. Add onions and cook until soft
4. Add lentils and water
5. Salt to taste
6. Turn heat down to low. Soup will look a bit like this until it's done cooking
7. Let stand to cook for about 20 - 30 minutes until all the lentils have burst open
8. Take soup off the heat and purée using a blender or hand-held one
9. Add cumin to taste
10. Add salt to taste
11. If you want a more soupy and less porridgey consistency, add more water.
*one variation is to add pita chips into the soup--cut up pita and fry in olive oil until crispy*
And there you have it: the simplest, healthiest and cheapest soup ever. Thank those peasants for their devotion to lentil creations. I'll make my mother's brown lentil soup next week. It's flavouring is quite different from this red lentil soup.