Sometimes there is nothing better than coming home to a big, comforting bowl of soup. When the week has been full-on and the media full of hysteria, I need something earthy and grounding. A moment of calm to close the week and steady the nerves. There is something truly peaceful about a pot of soup puttering away on the stove, slowly filling the house with tempting smells and the promise of a warming meal. Nothing more dramatic in the preparation than roughly chopping a few vegetables and throwing them in a pot – and yet the result is rich and inviting. What is the wonder concoction you ask? Turkish Red Lentil Soup.
Now I know that when most people think of Turkish food, it’s more about kebabs and köfte, but as befits a vast and varied country, the Turkish kitchen has the most astounding number of recipes. There is a soup for just about every corner of the land, but my favourite, and possibly the most popular is Turkish Red Lentil Soup or Mercimek Çorbası. Gently spiced, sometimes flavoured with tomatoes, or peppers, it is a wonderfully nurturing, comforting soup that only takes about half an hour to make, and you may even have all the ingredients at home.
Red lentils are such a useful store cupboard ingredient as, unlike their green or brown cousins, they never need soaking and will bulk out and add their earthy flavour during the cooking process. I like to top this soup with a quickly made chilli oil and some tangy yoghurt, but it’s just as good without. Dried mint or Taze Nane is really popular in Turkish cooking – I’m not a huge fan so I like to top my soup with a little fresh mint for the flavour and a pop of colour. Hope you all have a relaxing weekend, if you get time, get into the kitchen and make up a big pot of soup – it’s good for the soul, I promise.
Turkish Red Lentil Soup
- 250 g red lentils
- 2 Tbsp oil
- 2 red onions, halved and sliced
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp ground paprika
- ½ tsp chilli flakes or pul biber
- 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
- 1- litre chicken or vegetable stock
- sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
for the chilli oil:
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp ground paprika
- ½ tsp chilli flakes or pul biber
- 3 Tbsp yoghurt, mixed with 1 Tbsp water
- lemon slices
- small bunch parsley or mint
- crusty bread
- Have a quick look through the lentils for any stones or debris, then give them a good rinse and set aside. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan and gently cook the onions with a pinch of salt over low heat for 4-5 minutes until softened, but not browned. Add the carrot to the pan and continue to cook, stirring for 3 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste, cumin, oregano, paprika, chilli flakes and garlic and stir well to combine. Pour in the tomatoes, chicken or vegetable stock, lentils and 250ml of water, then bring to the boil, stirring to make sure the lentils don’t stick to the bottom. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes until the carrot is softened and the lentils cooked through.
- Meanwhile, make the chilli oil by stirring together the olive oil, paprika and chilli flakes or pul biber in a small saucepan. Heat, stirring constantly until the paprika has dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- When the soup is cooked, use a hand/immersion blender to roughly puree the soup - I like to leave it a little rustic, but it’s really up to you. Taste and add salt, pepper or a squeeze of lemon juice if necessary. Divide between four bowls, drizzle over the chilli oil and yoghurt and a few leaves of fresh parsley or mint if using. Serve with lemon slices and crusty bread. Afiyet Olsun!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I don’t like spicy soup! Can I still make Turkish Red Lentil Soup?
That’s the beauty of making your own soup, you can adjust the amount of spice to your taste. Use sweet rather than spicy paprika and bring the chilli flakes to the table so everyone can adjust the heat to their taste. You may like to serve a little extra yoghurt to cool things down too.
Can Turkish Red Lentil Soup be frozen?
Yes, it can! It freezes beautifully. Allow to cool to room temperature before freezing.
I used a very salty stock and now my soup is too salty to eat! Help!
While it’s not the perfect rescue, stirring a little sugar through a very salty dish can mask some of the saltiness. You can also stir through some extra yoghurt. If I am making this with powdered stock I use a quarter less than the recommended amount – eg: 3 tsp powdered stock for 1-litre water.
What is Pul Biber?
A type of dried red pepper flake essential to Turkish cooking, sold from sweet to very very spicy! It’s sometimes known as Aleppo Pepper in English and can be found at any Turkish shop. You can replace it with mild chilli flakes.