A Middle Eastern classic. Really, really, really good.
- 1 large yellow onion
- 6 cloves garlic
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne
- 2 teaspoon cumin
- 11⁄2 cups lentils. Green or brown, doesn't matter.
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 4 cups water
- 1 lemon
- 8 ounces cut frozen spinach.
- 2 teaspoons dried mint
- Salt & pepper to taste. See step 9.
GarnishA slice of goat cheese, or a dollop of Greek yoghurt, in the center of the bowl would be awesome, unless you're a vegan. If you are a vegan it would still be awesome and you'd be missing out. Some pita chips on the side, maybe? Sure. A glass of rosewater lemonade would be a fantastic accompaniment. Serve hot or cold, it's good both ways.
- Finely dice the onion, ditto for the garlic. Heat the oil to fragrance and in they go. Saute until they're very soft and golden brown. That will take about five to ten minutes over medium heat.
- Got lightly brown pot contents and the kitchen smells like onions? Then it's time to add the spices. Sprinkle the cayenne and cumin in, stir and cook for maybe a minute more so the flavors get all cozy.
- Add the lentils. Pour in the vegetable stock (chicken stock would be fine, too, if you're not vegetarian), raise the heat and wait for the pot to boil. Do not look directly at the pot during this stage, or double your prep time. Your choice.
- When you're at a boil, turn the heat down, add the water, and simmer for half an hour or so, until the lentils are soft. By waiting to add the water, you've concentrated a little bit more of the stock flavor into the vegetables.
- Zest the lemon, then squeeze it. All that goodness goes into your soup. Throw out the pips and pith.
- Optional: If you scoop about a cup and a half out of your stockpot and puree it in a blender, then pour it back in, you'll have a thicker, more stew-like broth. I like it that way but your mileage may vary.
- Add the spinach and heat it. You could cook some fresh spinach in a bit of garlic and olive oil and chop it up instead of dropping in a box of the frozen stuff. I really don't think it would make much difference. If you're a purist though, go for it. Important: If you put this step ahead of the last one, you'll have an equally tasty soup, but the presentation will be less visually appealing.
- Crush the dried mint and add it to the soup. Again, you could use fresh mint, in which case you'd need to use a lot, but provided your dried herbs are reasonably up-to-date you'll get enough of the essential oils that way, and no one will scoop up a spoon of mint leaves instead of lentil and spinach.
- Correct salt and pepper. Now, for the salt--don't be afraid to use a good quantity, particularly if you used a low sodium stock. Pepper, on the other hand: you won't need much, because of the cayenne. The most recent time I made this, I happened to have some rose pepper on hand and used about a quarter teaspoon for a bit of an extra kick and flavor note. That was perfection. I mean, any pepper will do, but rose peppercorns or green peppercorns are probably best. It's not like ordinary black pepper will do any harm, you understand, but the green or rose or even white pepper would make things a little more special in the good (as opposed to short school bus) way. To the extent I have a preference, it's for the rose peppercorns, which aren't technically a pepper but I'm not nerdy enough to care about that. I truly do like the rose peppercorns in this soup, though. If you have them, I'd really like it if you ground them up and used them. I will say that.