Of course, that’s a pretty big blanket statement. The ‘middle east’ is made up of a huge number of countries- 17 countries, according to Wikipedia, and a great many different cultures within each of those.
To think, sometimes I jokingly bristle when people think I’m American. Yes, I’m actually Canadian but- being completely honest here- it is an absolutely ridiculous thing to fuss about and most of the time it is impossible to tell us apart, even for us. (spoiler alert: I don’t say a-boot, 90% of what you know about Canadian stereotypes is wrong and/or does not apply to the Canadians I know… We do say ‘sorry’ a lot, though. That’s true.)
So, the umbrella-term ‘Middle Eastern’ is totally cool but we also have to be aware that someone from Saudi Arabia and someone from Iran won’t necessarily have much in common just because they’re both from ‘the middle east.’ I mean, they don’t even speak the same language.
In short, while there certainly are some similarities between Qatari food, Persian food, Arabian food and Egyptian food, they are also a lot of differences. A good example is falafel. Falafel are eaten throughout the middle east however the preparation differs between regions. In Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine falafel are made with chickpeas. In Egypt, however, they use fava beans (also known as broad beans). I like to use both.
To take an American example- sure, Tennessee and North Carolina both make pulled pork, but they taste very different (the former having a typically sweet, tomato-based barbecue sauce and the latter being less saucy and more vinegar based)- and that’s all happening in the same country, just a few miles away!
This week I stumbled across the cookbook “Modern Flavors of Arabia” by Suzanne Husseini. Oh. My. God.
Husseini’s book, stunningly photographed by Petrina Tinslay, is an absolute gem for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of middle eastern cuisine. I immediately tagged a dozen or so recipes that I had to try as soon as humanly possible. First up… this soup.
I adapted this soup from Husseini’s book only ever so slightly. The whole thing comes together really quickly, is shockingly healthy (and vegan! and gluten-free!) and will knock your socks off with how tasty it is. After reading through the ingredients, it’s hard to even imagine them coming together in such a perfect match but I assure you, they are more than the sum of their parts.
It doesn’t look like much… I know. Sadly, I don’t have Tinslay’s photographic skill quite yet and it’s not small feat to make lentils look sexy, but trust me- this recipe is a winner through and through. Healthy comfort food, I love it.
|Lemony Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard|| |
- ⅛ cup + 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
- 1½ cups green lentils
- 5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and diced
- 3 large stalks Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp allspice
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 large lemon, juice and zest
- Serving suggestions:
- Lightly toasted flatbreads
- Lemon wedges
- In a small pan, heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Add garlic and cilantro and cook on low until fragrant but not browned- we're infusing the oil, not really trying to cook this. Remove from heat and set aside.
- In a large pot, heat the remaining ⅛ cup of olive oil. Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Stir in the lentils. Add stock and bring to a boil. The top of the pot will accumulate a foam from the lentils- skim the foam off with a spoon. Add the potatoes and chard. Season with allspice, salt and pepper. Simmer until the potatoes and lentils are cooked and tender.
- Add the garlic/cilantro mixture to the soup pot and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed. Remove from heat. Just before serving, add the lemon juice and zest. Serve with warmed flatbreads and additional lemon wedges.