For Christmas this year, I received two books on the food of the Eastern Mediterranean. Unsurprisingly, one was from my sister who has recently moved to the Jordanian capital, Amman. She had plenty of recommendations of what I needed to try, such as kibbeh, a sort of dumpling made with beef mince and bulgur wheat. Of course, I ignored that on this occasion.
As the festive season was drawing to a close and I was nearing the end of the brief fortnight I got to spend at home this year, something simple, healthy and filling was indisputably necessary after consecutive nights of cheese, crackers, wine and pork pie. So, from Mona Hamadeh’s Everyday Lebanese Cooking, I tried my hand at a simple red lentil soup.
Just lentils on their own sounds a bit bland to most people, but I think their natural nuttiness is delicious, especially lifted in this recipe by cumin and a squeeze of lemon juice. The soup you get once the lentils have fallen apart into a purée is a blank canvas, ready to be decorated with splashes of colour and flavour like roasted red peppers, pomegranate seeds or, as we had it available, some fresh parsley.
I’ve modified the recipe slightly, which seems to have reduced the cooking time and the washing up quite a bit but everything else remains the same, so perhaps it’s one for other lentil lovers like me. Either way, ever disapproving of lentils, my father remains unconvinced, though he did do the honours of taking the photo!
Heat the oil in large saucepan and soften the onion for 5-10 minutes on a medium heat. Add the cumin and fry for 30 seconds before adding the lentils and stirring through to coat in the spiced oil. Add enough water to cover to about twice the depth of the lentils. Bring to the boil and cook, covered, for 15-20 minutes or until the lentils have broken down to a purée, stirring the pan regularly (lentils are quite prone to sticking), and topping up with additional water if necessary. Once the lentils are cooked, reduced to a simmer and add more water if necessary to achieve a soup-like consistency before seasoning generously with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and stir through the juice of a lemon before serving, garnished with the topping of your choice.