Thursday, August 1, 2013

Red Lentil Soup with Homemade Croutons -- for Evren's Birthday

When my son Evren, who is away at school, called me from Colorado a few weeks ago and asked me for my recipe for red lentil soup, I knew right away that he was either missing mom's home-cooking, or he was a little under the weather, or both.  After all, red lentil soup has been one of our family's go-to comfort foods for colds, allergies, earaches, broken bones, and just the plain old blues for as long as I can remember.  Rich and earthy, red lentil soup (or ezogelin çorbası in Turkish) is a soothing and delicious soup that is packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  Plus, red lentil soup is vegan -- without trying to be -- something I truly appreciate!

So, since Evren is turning 21 today, I was inspired to post his favorite soup, especially for him. (Perhaps now he will read my blog!)  Here is the recipe.

First, I dice 1 white onion, 2 cloves of garlic, and 1 large, juicy tomato.  I also measure out 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 2 tablespoons of good tomato paste.  I heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven and sauté the onion and garlic for about two minutes.  Once the onion and garlic mixture is softened, I add in the tomato paste and the diced tomatoes, along with 2 tablespoons of paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground red pepper (Turkish pul biber is the best, if you have it), and I stir everything together over a low heat.

Next I add in 1-1/2 cups red lentils, which I've rinsed and strained, 1/4 cup long grain rice, and 6 cups vegetable broth, water, or a combination of the two.  (You can also substitute any other type of clear broth - whatever you generally like to use.)  I bring everything to boil and then cover the pot and simmer the soup for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

While the red lentil soup is simmering, I prepare my homemade croutons.  Croutons are only as good as the bread they are made from, and for this soup, we like a good sourdough crouton.  First I slice and dice the bread into bite size cubes, utilizing as much of the crust as I can.  About four to five handfuls of the cubed bread should do it.

Next, I sauté the bread cubes in sizzling hot olive oil.  I do this in small batches, turning the bread frequently until all the cubes are golden on all sides.  As they finish cooking, I plop the croutons into a small paper bag and shake it to remove the excess oil.

Once all the croutons are ready, I place them all in a bowl lined with a paper towel, and I season them with salt, some finely chopped parsley, and a bit of red pepper.

By this time 30 minutes of simmering should be about up, and the lentils should be tender and just about done.  At this point I add to the soup 1/4 cup fine grain bulgur (No. 1), pre-rinsed and strained, along with 1 tablespoon of dried mint, and I stir it well and continue to simmer it for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If  the soup becomes too thick -- and it always does -- I add more water or broth until the consistency is just right.  It should be roughly the consistency of pea soup.   If you like a rustic soup, it's ready to serve at this point.  If you prefer a creamier soup, blend carefully using an emersion blender, or in small batches in a traditional blender.  We like it right in between rustic and creamy, so I run an emersion blender through the soup for only about 10-15 seconds until it's the perfect consistency.  

Finally, I season the soup with salt and pepper, and serve it piping hot, topped with the homemade sourdough croutons, along with fresh lemon wedges and a simple green salad.  Red lentil soup - the perfect 21st birthday lunch!  Happy Birthday, Evrenim benim!

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