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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Spiced Lentil Soup

Betsy once pointed out that our comfort food file contains many foods with chocolate as a major component. As much as I love chocolate and find it comforting it is not the only food that I turn to when I need a boost. Although some savory comfort foods are the mainstays of my winter meals, they are worth cooking any time of the year.

When I was a young mom, my husband received an Air Force assignment to a location I'd never heard of and on a globe it showed up as a dot the size of a pinhead, Bahrain. As it turned out the whole family was fortunate enough to accompany Leon for three years of adventure. Of the gulf countries Bahrain ran out of its oil money early and at the time it was beginning to establish itself as a banking center. The island had not taken on the glitzy character of a Las Vegas on steroids. There was much that was still undeveloped and reflected the old culture of the Middle East. We liked to frequent a restaurant that had no sign with its name in English or Arabic. The proprietors drew attention to the place by spotlighting high ropes sporting red and white flags which waved in the wind. We came up with our own name, calling the place "Twenty-seven Flags." It was here that I first tasted homey, warm, and humble lentil soup with the perfect amounts of spice and lemon.

This particular recipe comes very close to my memories of the Bahraini soup and deserves a place in the comfort food file because just one whiff takes me back to a lovely time in my life.


Spiced Lentil Soup

Adapted from: cooks
Serves: 4-6

The authors of this recipe recommend using Lentils du Puy, a French green lentil. That said, you can use almost any tan, black, or brown lentil but cooking times may vary depending on the type of lentil you choose. 

3 slices bacon, cut into 1/4 pieces
1 large onion, chopped finely (about 1 1/2 c)
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped medium (about 1 c)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 T)
1 teas ground cumin
1 teas ground coriander
1 teas ground cinnamon
1/4 t cayenne pepper (or less if you don't like the heat)
1  14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 bay leaf
1 teas minced fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teas dried thyme)
1 c lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 teas table salt
ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 c dry white wine
4 1/2 c low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 c water
1/2 teas lemon juice
3 T minced fresh cilantro leaves

Fry bacon in a 4-quart heavy saucepan, stockpot, or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp. Remove from pot with slotted spoon and set aside. Remove all but 1-2 T fat from pan and add onion and carrots, cooking and stirring occasionally until vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne; cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes, bay leaf, and thyme and cook for a minute or two. Stir in the lentils, salt and pepper. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the vegetables are softened and the lentils have darkened, 8-10 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to high, stir in the wine and cook for a minute while the wine simmers. Add the broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover partially, and simmer until the lentils are tender but retain their shape, about 30-35 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.

Puree 3 c soup in a blender until smooth. Return to the soup and stir. Add the bacon, lemon juice, and 2 T cilantro, using 1 T to sprinkle on top before serving.

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