My recent holiday in Istanbul was nothing short of gastronomic heaven. As a result of it’s unique geographic location, straddling Europe and Asia, Turkey’s cuisine is a blissful combination of Central Asian, European and Middle Eastern cuisines all brought together and cultivated in 400 years of Ottoman kitchens. Their culinary tradition is rich in the use of lamb, beef, chicken, fish, vegetables of all kinds, pulses and the generous use of herbs and spices, in particular some of my favourites – cumin, mint, oregano, parsley and paprika. During the week I spent there I dined at street food stalls, traditional Turkish lunch houses and restaurants run by the new breed of modern, young, Turkish chefs and I did not have one dud meal. Not one. As you can imagine, that made me a very happy girl.
One dish which is ubiquitous in Turkey is their tasty red lentil soup. It seems to be the comfort food of a nation and every cook has their own version of it. I first tried it in a tiny cave of a lunch joint, not far from the spice bazaar, which has been serving it to the local traders for several generations. I was sold from the first mouthful and am still struggling to believe that it contained nothing more than lentils, onion and water. Another version I tried in a different lunch bar a few days later seemed to be a little thicker, had a hint of cumin and was served with a lemon wedge and was equally delicious.
Red lentils are much easier and quicker to cook than their green cousins and are high in fibre, iron and readily digestible protein – making them a good substitute for meat – and also making them a very attractive option for a quick, but nutritious family meal. Spring has been as erratic as ever here at home, with sunny days but nippy evenings, and I decided to share a little of my Turkish experience with the family the other night when looking for a lazy, but healthy meal.
As I mentioned, there are as many versions of this as there are cooks and this is just my take on a classic. My version is quite thick and you can stick with this or tweak it and make it your own, but it is another of my favourite kind of recipes – simple and simply delicious. I served it with some fresh buttermilk and herb scones (biscuits to our US cousins) which went down a treat with the troops.
- 250 gms red lentils
- 1.5 litres of chicken or vegetable stock
- 25 mls oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 50 mls extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- Heat oil in saucepan and saute onion and carrot over medium heat until soft.
- Add stock, lentils and cumin, bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, until lentils and carrots are soft.
- Puree with an immersion blender or cool & whizz in processor until smooth.
- Gently heat EVO in a small pan and stir in smoked paprika.
- Return soup to pot and reheat over low heat. Serve with a drizzle of the smoked paprika oil.
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