The lemony red lentil soup comes from Egypt, but it’s a common soup all over North Africa and the Middle East. I often enjoyed it as a first course when I spent time in Lebanon and Syria in the summer of 2009. It has enough lemon juice, garlic, and cumin to be interesting, but not overpowering. Don’t be intimidated by the amount of garlic in the recipe. The whole cloves acquire a mellow and soft flavor when simmered as whole cloves in the soup.
This soup is made with red lentils (masoor dal), that are orange when raw, and turn goldenrod-color when cooked. They disintegrate a bit when cooked (similar to split peas), but a quick whirr with the immersion stick blender smooths the soup out fully, pureeing the onion and whole garlic that have softened during simmering. When the potato cubes in the soup get pureed, they soften out the texture of the soup and give it body.
It’s simple to pull together for company. Because you puree the soup, you only have to roughly chop the onion and potatoes, and use whole garlic cloves. Just simmer everything, then puree it all at the end. I had friends over for lunch two days ago, and served this soup paired with olive-bread panini and mint tea. It would also be nice with a Middle Eastern salad like fattoush or this parsley salad.
EGYPTIAN LEMONY RED LENTIL SOUP
1 cup dried red lentils
2 cups roughly chopped onions
2 cups chopped potatoes
8-10 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
5 cups water
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
3-6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (to taste)
salt and black pepper to taste
Wash the red lentils in several changes of water, and rinse. Do this in the way that you wash and rinse rice. Combine the lentils, onion, potatoes, garlic, and water in a large soup pot. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until everything is tender, 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat.
In a small skillet on low heat, warm the oil until it is hot but not smoking. Add the cumin, turmeric, and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes. Take care not to scorch the spices. Add this to the soup.
Puree the soup with an immersion stick blender until smooth. Add the lemon juice. Reheat gently and season with salt and pepper to taste.