By Kenny Weir
IRAQI RED LENTIL SOUP
The recipe remains a mainstay of our home life and is the ultimate in lockdown food. It’s delicious, cheap as, hard to stuff up and perfect in every way.
Based on numerous comments, I know there are pulse fans among the regular visitors to Consider The Sauce. And among those, there are those who have their favourite uses for red lentils – be they dals or soups. Well listen up – I hope you all try this killer recipe. It may not supplant your favourite recipe(s), but it’ll impress everyone for sure.
Like everything I’m cooking at the moment, this recipe – slightly customised – comes from Nawal Nasrallah’s awesome Iraqi cookbook, Delights From The Garden Of Eden. She calls this lentil brew “the mother of all soups”, and it’s the bestest, tastiest lentil soup recipe I’ve ever cooked.
Funny thing – I used to be a bit sniffy about using curry powder. Too many lingering memories from childhood (sausages and sultanas), I suppose. These days, I’m much more relaxed about using good-quality curry powders sourced from any of the many Indian grocers in our world. In this case, the small amount of powder used means the soup does not taste of curry – or curry powder. Rather, in combination with the other seasonings, it imparts a deep, rich and rather mysterious earthiness. The addition of flour after frying the onions is the direct opposite of what I’m used to when cooking New Orleans or Cajun dishes, in which a usually very dark roux is made and the vegetables then added. No matter – the effect is similar, although that step could be omitted entirely as not a lot of flour is used.
- 2 cups red lentils
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 noodle nests or equivalent amount of broken-up pasta
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 1 heaping teaspoon plain or wholemeal flour
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- Chopped parsley
Two things to note before we start; firstly, the noodles are supposed to be the very thin Middle Eastern kind, but if you cannot source them, the slightly thicker Italian ones are fine.
Secondly, the fried onions are NOT used in their normal soup-ingredient manner. They are more of a garnish and should be added just the end with the lemon juice.
- Wash lentils and place in pot with 10 cups of water. Bring to boil and cook until done – about 30-45 minutes. Don’t worry, it’s pretty much impossible to overcook them – you’ll just end up with a different texture, that’s all.
- When lentils are close to fully cooked, heat oil to low-medium and fry onions until a deep golden brown. This should take about 10-15 minutes. Stir frequently.
- As onions are cooking, add to the lentils the pepper, salt, tomato paste, turmeric and curry powder. Keep on a very low heat and stir gently until the paste and seasonings are well integrated.
- Also crunch/crumble noodle nests into the soup – doing this feels really cool!
- Cook soup for about another 15 minutes or until noodles are soft.
- About five minutes before noodles are soft, add flour to onions and continue to cook over a low-medium heat, stirring often.
- Cook for about five minutes or until flour is the same golden colour as the onions.
- Slop a couple of ladles of soup mixture into onion pan, swirl around to loosen all the flour and return pan contents to soup.
- Cook for another five minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add lemon juice, mix in.
- Place soup in bowls, garnish with parsley.