Lentil Soup with Cumin and Lemon
For what is sure to be a good New Year, this post brings you a humble dish, a simple dish, a dish of low expectations but high rewards. It is a dish that we feel is appropriate to begin the fresh-faced and eager year of 2017 with. In ancient Rome - and in Italy to this day- lentils symbolise prosperity and auspiciousness. The Romans of yore would present each other with a little pouch of lentils in which the fat little discs of hopeful food jingled like coins and, when soaked or cooked, grew in size. Lentils are to this day a traditional, if not ubiquitous, dish for the New Year's table in Italy.
Lentils are also widely used in Levantine cooking, and the recipe for this lentil soup is a version of one that I would have had in Damascus during Ramadan, where the dish is eaten to break the fast just after sunset. In both traditions lentils are a food of transition, consumed at the closure of one period and the start of another.
This is altogether what I think of as modest and humble food. Food of the kitchen, of good friends and family too close for you to have any pretensions with. It is clear upon serving this dish that you did not labour endlessly in making it. This dish will not present an opportunity to showcase how clever you are. It is hard to tart this into anything served in a fashionable establishment, and most people are unlikely to be wowed by a bowl of lentil soup.
It is, however, a gentle dish, forgiving of your limitations of skill, equipment, kitchen cupboard space and budget. This is food to be eaten with people who know you well, and who like you, and what you have to give, and who will appreciate a bowl of warmth and your good humour, which can sparkle as it rightly should, without you getting hot and a bit stressed over getting something just right. This will turn out just right if you turn the hob on.
We have this dish regularly, especially when the temperature drops. Each time I eat this lentil soup I am happily reminded of people, events and places. This is one kind of "cup of kindness" because I like to remember the people and places of the past that now seems very distant, even if it was not so "auld lang syne".
This is a nourishing dish and one that comes together in under 30 minutes and tastes like it is centuries old. For me it is comfort and security and a reminder that true prosperity can easily be achieved with a handful of lentils. So, I hope that our New Year will be enriched by remembering the past and that how the world looks right now was not the way the world always was, or the way the world is destined to be, and also enriched by the lentils which jingled so promisingly for the Romans. All of us Bethnal Greens hope the same for all of you.
Ingredients: (serves 2 adults and toddler as a main)
- 1 cup split red lentils
- 1 large onion
- 2 medium carrots
- 6 cups water (divided)
- 3 tbsps low-salt bouillon, or 1 tbsp regular
- 1 tbsp cumin
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Serve with lemon juice and a drizzle of olive/chilli oil to taste
- Dice the onion and place along with 1 tbsp of bouillon and 1 cup of water in a large pot. Bring to the boil, simmer and reduce until the onion is soft and golden and water has reduced by half, roughly 5 minutes
- Dice carrots and add along with the remainder of the water, bouillon, lentils and cumin to the pot, return to the boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered for 20 minutes.
- Blend the soup and serve with lemon juice and some olive oil.