Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Claudia Roden's Egyptian Red Lentil Soup

I waited a while to get my hands on Med I left it late to pre-order at a good price and it sold out (briefly) then I couldn't guarantee being at home to take delivery of it, then when I did order it, it took an age to get to me and went around the houses in the process. It arrived yesterday after what felt like an age and very happy I was to see it. As if it wasn't enough that Claudia Roden is one of my absolute food hero's - brilliant food, and writing that opens up worlds for you is a dream combination, it turns out that Med is also a chance to own a bit of artwork by David Cass. I've admired his sea-inspired paintings for a while so having his cover design on the book is a real bonus. 

So far I've mostly just leafed through this book, but one recipe really jumped out at me. The Egyptian Red Lentil Soup. Red Lentil Soup is something I particularly associate with Scotland where it's a staple. I first learnt to make it at school, it's been a go-to comfort recipe ever since. It's also the cheapest thing I know how to cook. 

The super basic Shetland junior high version uses a carrot, half an onion, a handful of red lentils, a little butter or oil, salt, pepper and a stock cube. Sometimes if I'm feeling fancy I might add a little chopped bacon. If I didn't have any I wouldn't worry about using stock either. You soften the onion and carrot, add the lentils to coat them in oil (or butter), salt, pepper, then simmer until the lentils are soft. It's great.

Claudia Roden's Egyptian version adds a couple of cloves of garlic at the beginning, and then lemon juice, ground coriander, ground cumin, and some chilli flakes (optional) 5 minutes before it's ready. These things hardly make the soup more extravagant as I'd almost always have them to hand anyway, they do transform the flavour from something distinctly Scottish to something distinctly laced with cumin (which I adore). I made it for dinner tonight which was extremely welcome on a cool wet autumn evening - it's a good-tempered recipe that needs no more than a few minutes prep and can then be left to simmer away whilst you catch up with other things which is another point in its favour. 

What's really caught my imagination though is this link between these two soups. A language of food that crosses continents and ties the poor together across them - Roden descripes hers as a peasent soup. Med looks to be full of wonderful things which I look forward to exploring, but nothing is going to have the resonance that this red lentil soup has. 

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