Persian Spiced Lentil Soup

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Happy first day of spring! Or if you’re of Persian descent, Happy Nowruz! Nowruz literally translates to “new day” and is the name for the Persian new year, which occurs on the vernal (spring) equinox. The holiday has been celebrated for thousands of years and is a holy day from the Zoroastrian tradition, though it is a completely secular celebration for most, especially in the modern day. It has been a long-standing national holiday in Iran and since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Caucasian and central Asian countries have declared it a national holiday for themselves as well. The holiday welcomes spring with a variety of traditions. Spring cleaning, visiting friends and family, a Santa Claus-like figure called Amu Nowruz with gifts for children, an elaborate table setting called haft seen, other festive decorations, and of course, eating are all parts of the traditional celebration.

This soup isn’t a traditional Nowruz dish, but most of those gorgeous dinners and sweets involve a little more time than we have on this weekday evening! Actually, I’ve found several variations of my source recipe around the internet – apparently they’re attempts to copycat a beloved soup at a Persian restaurant in Chicago called Reza’s. So we’ll consider this soup a stepping stone towards a real Nowruz celebration one of these years coming up! (I really wanted to make ash-e reshteh, but didn’t have all of the ingredients. It seemed like a cop out to fudge on the ingredients of the traditional Nowruz first night soup, so we bailed on that idea. Maybe next year!) We made another lentil soup recently (Turkish Red Lentil Soup), and while there are some similarities to this one, the flavors end being totally different! This soup is hearty and filling (thanks lentils!), but seems like a perfect welcome to spring with its bright and tangy flavors. Consider it the perfect culinary bridge between winter (warm, hearty) and spring (bright flavors)!

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Persian Spiced Lentil Soup

(Adapted from this recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp neutral oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 medium tomatoes (or a 15oz can crushed tomatoes)
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp (+) sumac
  • 1 tbsp dill
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2/3 cup red lentils
  • Salt & pepper
  • Optional toppings: yogurt, feta cheese, lime wedges
Instructions:
  1. In a medium sized pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions, carrots, and garlic. Season with pinch of salt and a few turns of fresh black pepper. Cook until softened and fragrant.
  2. If using fresh tomatoes, chop quarter them and blitz them in a food processor. Then add the tomatoes, along with the stock, herbs, and spices (except for the fresh parsley).
  3. Bring the pot to a simmer. Simmer, partially covered for 20 minutes.
  4. Now add the lentils and return to a simmer for another 15-20 minutes, or until lentils are cooked.
  5. Add the chopped parsley and cook for just another few minutes. Taste and add salt as needed.
  6. Serve with additional sumac, parsley, or a squeeze of lime on top if you like. A dollop of yogurt or a few chunks of feta would also be delicious!
Serves 4 as an entree; ~6-8 as a starter or side
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Turkish Red Lentil Soup

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We haven’t shared that many soup recipes on here, but soup probably makes up a good third of my diet. I love soup! This is just another reason why I was born to marry into a Turkish family. If you ever make it to Turkey (which I can’t suggest more highly), you’ll see that delicious soups are frequently served as a starter to evening meals and eaten for breakfast and lunch as well. Soup with every meal?! Basically my idea of heaven.

We’ve made and shared High Plateau Soup, another Turkish soup recipe before – it’s rich, creamy, and incredibly unique – at least for my American palate! This soup has entirely different flavors, very reminiscent of soups Selim’s aunts and grandmother made for us in Turkey. Red lentil soup (kirmizi mercimek çorbasi) is hearty and filling, easy to make, and delicious. Make for a week of lunches like I did, or maybe next Monday, if you subscribe to #MeatlessMondays!

Red Lentil Soup

(Adapted from Ozlem’s Turkish Table)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 3 red potatoes, cubed
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt & pepper
  • Lemon wedges, extra red pepper flakes, and/or  for serving if desired
Instructions: 
  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot.
  2. Once the oil is heated, add the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until softened and fragrant, 6-8 minutes.
  3. Add the lentils, potatoes, carrots, and stock to the pot. Simmer for ~30 minutes, until the lentils and vegetables are cooked.
  4. Stir in the cumin, paprika, and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes. Lower heat and cook for a 10+ additional minutes.
  5. Taste and add salt & pepper as desired.
  6. Stir in lemon juice just prior to serving.
  7. Serve with lemon wedges, mint, and/or extra crushed red pepper flakes.
Makes 4-6 servings.