Egyptian-style lentil and spinach soup

In Recipies on March 9, 2011 at 8:32 am


Serve this soup with homemade pita and a citrus drink



I made this soup for several years without processing it into a creamy texture.  On a lark one day, I decided to “pulse my pulses” in my trusty food processor and add the remaining ingredients after getting the consistency I wanted for this soup.




Unprocessed, this soup is excellent and is representative of lentil-vegetable soups around the Mediterranean and in the Near East.  I formerly did not consider processing the soup because I take as little notice of the lentil “skins” as I do of tomato skins in a dish.  I just think of it as “evident dietary fiber” and enjoy the meal.  On the other hand, some people say “ick” when a tomato skin hits their tongue in a cooked dish and they prefer not to have anything of the sort in their soups.


Processing does two things.  It pulverizes all those skins and strings (from celery) and it blends the flavors of the ingredients.  This is a soup that definitely improves with the added step of processing it to a creamy consistency.


The spinach for the soup goes in last because the chopped leaves make a contrasting presentation to the otherwise brown or red background color of the soup.  I use frozen, chopped spinach instead of fresh.  I generally limit the spinach content in this soup to about eight to ten ounces and I hate having leftover fresh spinach that I may not use within a day or two of purchasing.  Using the frozen variety is convenient and not wasteful…just shove the remaining amount back into the freezer.  If you want to use fresh spinach, chiffonade the spinach rather than chopping it so that it has a festive confetti-like appearance in the soup.


There are many variations of this recipe and most use a bit of fresh cilantro.  Cilantro leaves have a lemony taste that compliment the lemon juice used in the soup.  Instead of fresh cilantro, of which I may only use a cup of leaves for this recipe, I use ground coriander and then sprinkle a bit of dehydrated cilantro into the soup when I add the spinach.  I grow my own cilantro in summer and dehydrate it for winter use.  Buying an entire bunch of fresh cilantro to use only a cup of leaves is extravagant in winter.  In summer, when I have pots of the stuff, I just pick what I need.  (NOTE:  Cilantro grows very fast.  You can have a fresh crop from seeds every month or so.  Consider planting some in your herb garden this summer.)


Notice that I use a whole (small) head of garlic.  Lentils and garlic go together well and I have enjoyed a Greek version of this soup that is a garlic-lover’s dream and a vampire’s nightmare.


The Egyptian people enjoy this soup hot or cold.  In summer, the lemon accents are extremely refreshing on a hot day.  Hot or cold, this is a satisfying soup that is hearty enough for winter, but not overly heavy in summer.


Let’s make some soup!


1 (softball-size) sweet onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, diced

2 large carrots, diced

1 large russet potato, peeled and diced

1 ½ C red lentils

8-12 oz chopped frozen spinach

¼ C olive oil

1 small head (HEAD, not clove) garlic, minced.

32 oz vegetable stock (may use chicken stock for ‘meat’ meal)

4 bay leaves

1 ½ tsp ground cumin

2 tsp ground coriander

2 TBS dry cilantro leaves

1 large lemon (2 if for summer cold-serve variety)

option: 1 tsp Aleppo pepper flakes, or ¼ tsp cayenne, or any pepper sauce at table)

lemon slices or quarters for garnish


NOTE:  I add no salt to this when cooking.  Often the broth has enough salt to carry the dish and only a bit of freshly ground pepper is needed to season it before serving.


Be sure to sort and rinse the lentils.  Sticks and stones break bones…and expensive dental work.  Do not forget to remove the bay leaves and lemon rinds before processing either!


Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Sauté the onion for about seven minutes, or until soft but not brown.  Stir in half of the minced garlic and cook for one minute. Do not burn the garlic or your soup will be bitter.  Now add the potato, carrots, and celery and reduce the heat slightly.  Cook, uncovered, until the celery just begins to soften, stirring frequently.  Add the cleaned lentils and all of the vegetable (or chicken) stock.  Bring to a gentle boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer.  Add the bay leaves.  Simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until the potato is very soft.  Cut the lemon in half and then cut one half into four quarters.  Drop the lemon pieces into the soup, cover, and cook for 10 more minutes.  Remove the soup from the heat.  Remove the bay leaves and lemon rind (squeeze out any remaining juice that may not have cooked out of the lemon pieces).  Stir in the cumin and coriander.  Set aside to cool for about 30 minutes.


Carefully, in batches appropriate to your food processor, process the soup into a creamy texture.  When all of the soup has been processed, squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon half, remove any seeds, and add the juice to the soup.  Stir in the frozen spinach and the dried cilantro leaves.  Add the Aleppo pepper or cayenne (if using – I like to heat it up with a pepper sauce at the table) and taste for heat.  Return the soup to low-medium heat until fully re-heated, constantly stirring to prevent scorching at the bottom.  Ladle into shallow bowls and garnish with lemon quarters or slices.  Serve with fresh pita and a decent pepper sauce (I like the brand,“Cholula”!).


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