Something I love about cooking, absolutely love, is that you can be looking through a French cookbook and find a cake almost identical to one made commonly in the Philippines. Le Success from France is more or less the Sans Rival from the Philippine islands. Meringue with nuts, layered with buttercream, one just uses cashews where the other makes due with hazelnuts or almonds. There’s a cornmeal pudding in Jamaica that has lots in common with Old World desserts like Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake. There’s an Italian cake I love to make, Cassata cake, which has a filling resembling the base for the Russian dessert Pashka.
Today I found what I guess could be called the Egyptian riff on Indian dal. The only real difference between dal and the Egyptian soup is that the lentils aren’t cooked down quite so much, and are instead pureed to achieve a smooth texture. Of course, I decided I wanted some texture and abandoned that final step. Plus, having used brown lentils instead of the slightly less common red, I felt that pureed the soup might resemble sludge, and I wanted something with a little more visual appeal.
This soup would have been boring had I not looked to the reviews beforehand and followed one reviewer’s idea to double the spices. Someone also highlighted the HUGE amount of water and absence of broth, saying that it could use some. Thus, I switched out some water for broth. The recipe also stated to peel and seed the tomatoes, but having read somewhere in a Cook’s Illustrated article that so much flavor is lost from seeding tomatoes, I chucked them in, seeds, skins, and all. But what made this a tasty soup, at least for me, was the butter. I never use butter with lentils, but the two tablespoons really rounded the flavors, and gave it a richness that would probably have been even better had I used nutty red lentils instead of brown.
Egyptian Lentil Soup (shorbet ads)
Adapted from Food and Wine February 2012
My soup wasn’t the vivid color this is supposed to be, but it tasted wonderful. If you’ve got red lentils, go ahead and use them, the soup will be naturally creamier and you’ll have even less of a need for the food processor. I doubled the spices and increased the garlic from 3 cloves to 5. I didn’t use ancho chile powder, but cayenne pepper. I left it at the specified 1/2 teaspoon because a little can go a long way. I guess you could bring it up to 1 teaspoon, but I think it would be quite spicy. Oh, and originally there were three celery stalks, but I decided I didn’t need the full mirepoix and ditched them.
2 Tablespoons butter
2 medium-sized onions, chopped
2 medium-sized carrots, sliced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder or cayenne pepper
1 pound tomatoes, chopped (okay, so if you aren’t going to puree the soup at the end you might want to throw the tomatoes in boiling water for a moment so you can peel off the skin. Leave the pulp though, it have lots of flavor. I used three medium-sized Early Girl tomatoes for my pound, though I’m not sure it was exactly one pound.)
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups red or brown lentils (red is traditional)
4 cups water
4 cups vegetable broth
yogurt or sour cream
pita bread, or any bread, or no bread (we were opting no bread)
Heat butter over medium heat in a large pot or dutch oven. Add carrots and onions then cook until tender. Add spices and garlic and cook for about three minutes. Add in the tomatoes and cook for about two minutes so that they are just starting to break down. Finally, add the lentils and broth. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce to medium heat and simmer for about half an hour. If you want to puree the soup, let it cool for a bit, the puree in batches in a food processor. I assume a blender would work as well. Serve with lemon wedges for people to juice, yogurt/sour cream and bread.