Do you know how smelling certain scents can conjure up a memory so specific within seconds? For me, flavours have the tendency to do that also.
The sweet and sesame laden taste of asal we tahina, (a delectable breakfast spread made from sugarcane molasses mixed with tahini) transports me to back to the age of six, sitting in the living room of our old house, dipping toasted Arabic bread into the caramel coloured spread as a I watched cartoons on a Friday morning.
Similarly, the taste of cumin-scented red lentil soup triggers an almost instantaneous chain of memories of every Ramadan spent at home. My mind starts to play a montage of idling around the kitchen, setting the table for elaborate family iftars, and waking up groggily to have suhoor at the crack of dawn. If I had to choose one flavour to sum up the entire month, it would without a doubt be my mother’s incomparable Egyptian red lentil soup.
Truth be told, lentil soup is a staple dish in most Arab countries including Egypt, so there isn’t one specific recipe for it. You’ll find the flavours (and subsequent recipes) will differ from one country to the next. My own rendition is a little heartier than most, but every bit as warming and reminiscent of Ramadans past.
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1 medium red onion, roughly quartered
- 1 medium sweet potato (about two cups worth), roughly chopped
- 1 medium tomato, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 2 small carrots (or one large), peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 heaping tbsp of cumin powder
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 litre water or vegetable stock (plus more as needed)
- Caramelised onions
- Baked pita chips
- Lemon juice
- Toasted cumin seeds
- Organic extra virgin olive oil
- Add all ingredients to a large pot and cover with water or vegetable stock.
- Bring to the boil, then add in seasonings before covering and bring the heat down to medium-low to simmer.
- Cook for about 20-25 minutes or until the carrots are soft enough to slice easily. That’s the best indicator for me as they take the longest to cook.
- Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then carefully pour contents into a blender, and blend till creamy.
- Add back into the pan and thin out with water as needed, remembering to taste and re-adjust seasoning.
- I use sweet potato to up the nutritional profile of this soup (can’t get enough beta-carotene!), but feel free to use a regular potato for a more traditional taste
- For a spicy variation you could add one de-seeded chili pepper, or even 1 teaspoon of curry powder (note, that will alter the original flavour dramatically)
- For a chunkier texture you could pulse half of the mixture in a blender and set aside before adding to the rest of the pureed soup
Aside from the obvious nostalgia factor, I love having this soup during Ramadan because it is warming, easy on my digestion while still being unbelievably filling, making it a perfect contender for any Iftar table.
The addition of sweet potato adds a subtle sweetness to this soup which I just adore, pairing perfectly with the velvety blended lentils and aromatic cumin.
It’s also ridiculously easy to make as far as soups go, so for any wary kitchen newbies, have no fear. This recipe is practically foolproof.