Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Neighbor's Soup

I still can't seem to kick this yen I have for soup.  What with the cold weather, and I do mean COLD, all I seem to want is a steaming bowl of something.

Often, when I'm in such a mood, I turn to the excellent lentil lemon soup at Bread & Olive, a small middle eastern takeout place across the street from my apartment.  The soup is very simple with respect to the flavors.  It tastes of lemon and lentils, just like the name would suggest.  Like all of their food, it just feels extremely healthy and clean which I love. 

But, to my occasional dismay, Bread & Olive closes at 9:00 in the evening, which means that if I've had a late night at work, or have gone somewhere in the evening, I am out of luck when it comes to this wonderful meal.

But I had hopes that I might be able to replicate the soup to a decent degree myself.  The last time I was at the shop the owner had just finished up a batch of a lentil dish, and he gave me a bit to taste (because not only can the man cook, but he is quite a generous person).  It was absolutely delicious, so I asked what was in it.  The reply?  Lentils, onions, a bit of salt.  That was it.  Like I said, the food is simple, which made me think the soup couldn't be too complicated.

I did a little bit of online research and discovered that this lentil and lemon combination is a common Lebanese dish called Adas bil-Hamod, and that it often contains swiss chard.  Joy!  Swiss chard is one of my all time favorite vegetables so I was thrilled to have an excuse to cook with it.

And of course, lentils are one of the great legumes out there.  Nutritious, delicious, hard to ask for anything more.
Now I can't pretend that the version of the Adas bil-Hamod that I came up with is as good as the stuff that Bread & Olive makes, but it's pretty close.  And for those cold, late nights, it does a valiant job as a stand in.

Lentil Lemon Soup
Inspired by Bread & Olive's Lentil Lemon Soup

Serves 6

1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 quarts of chicken stock (you can also use water, which is the more traditional option)
1 large bunch of swiss chard, red or green
1 cup of lentils (I used brown, but use whatever you prefer)
10 garlic cloves, peeled
juice of 2 lemons
salt to taste

Put lentils in a strainer and rinse with cold water.  Pick out any bad lentils or bits of grit.  Set aside.  Heat olive oil over medium heat.  When warmed, add the onion and saute gently, until translucent.  Then add lentils, and cook briefly, stirring until lentils are coated in oil.  Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Turn heat down such that the soup is at a moderate simmer.  Cook until lentils are nearly done, about twenty minutes.  (This time can vary widely depending on the lentils you are using.  Mine were quite old so it took more like 45 minutes).  In the meantime, wash swiss chard and cut into ribbons (no need to separate the leaves from the stems).  When lentils are nearly done, add swiss chard to pot and continue to simmer.

In a mortar, mash the garlic cloves with two big pinches of salt (I used Maldon salt, which is somewhat more mild than iodized salt, so you may want to go easy if you use table salt).  Once garlic has been mashed to a paste, add the juice of the two lemons and incorporate.  Now in all honesty, this mashing is probably not totally necessary.  But it is apparently the traditional way to do it, and I need no encouragement to use my mortar and pestle.

Drizzle lemon and garlic mixture into the soup.  Continue to cook at a simmer for ten minutes.  If, after ten minutes, you find the garlic flavor too strong, continue to simmer until the taste agrees with you.  Add salt to taste, and serve.  


wambalus said...


Terry B said...

This sounds wonderful, Laura. And the photo of the steaming bowl is so inviting on a cold day. The shop owner was right about keeping things simple. Besides the titular potatoes and leeks, Julia Child's famous potato and leek soup includes only salt, water, butter and chives.

Laura said...

Also one of my favorite soups...never thought about it as being perfectly simple, but you're right, it absolutely is.

Loulou said...

This looks excellent! I'm always looking for a way to use Swiss Chard in the winter. It is readily available at the markets and is relatively inexpensive.
Thanks for the inspiration!

SGM said...

Oh, YUM. I too have been yearning for soup--always on the lookout for a new recipe. I will definitely give this a try.

Laura said...

Loulou and SGM, hope you enjoy it, let me know how it turns out!

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