A few weeks ago, my friend Janet took me on a tour of the Middle Eastern markets of Paterson, NJ. After wandering around grocery stores, spice markets, bakeries that are also jewelry stores (!), and shops with gorgeous samovars, textiles and aisle after aisle of extremely impressive hookas, we stopped for lunch at a lovely Turkish restaurant. The waiter found my questions regarding ingredients somewhat amusing, and served me a big, beatiful salad and a bowl of utterly delicious lentil soup. The soup service was absolutely charming, with lemon slices, tiny bowls of crunchy croutons, dried crushed mint, and crushed red pepper, all ready for me to garnish it as I liked. Here is my version of the soup, spiced my way and open to your own interpretation.
To serve 6-8:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, finely diced
2 teaspoons coriander, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon cumin, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ras el hanout
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
8 cups light vegetable stock
2 cups red lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 cup short-grain rice (such as Arborio)
1/2 cup crushed, peeled tomatoes
juice of 1/2 lemon
white wine, to taste
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
water, as needed
Heat oil in a your favorite soup pot. Add onions, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ras el hanout, and crushed red pepper. Saute, stirring often, until onions are very soft. Add vegetable stock, lentils, rice and tomatoes. Cook over medium-low heat for about 25 minutes, or until rice and lentils are very soft. Add lemon juice and a splash of white wine. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. If the soup is too thick for your liking, thin it with a bit of water. If you want to be fancy, you can puree the soup in the blender or with an immersion blender, or you can just serve it the way it is.
Serve hot with little bowls of lemon slices, crushed dried mint, crushed red pepper, and toasted croutons or fried pita.