Sunday, February 5, 2012

Egyptian Lentil Soup & Chive Flatbreads

I feel like I should rename this blog 'The Cake and Soup Blog'. It seems as though all I have been working on lately is cake, and now that life is finally calming down, all I want to do is hibernate in my kitchen and cook up a big batch of soup. So this weekend, I had my first Sunday off in what seems like about a year, that is what I did.

I love ordering lentil soups from Mediterranean or Indian take out places, and for some reason I have only ever cooked with lentils once. This is just WRONG. So Sunday morning, with coffee and the latest issue of Food & Wine in hand, I hit up the bulk section at whole foods and set about to make a pureed red lentil soup (I also decided I needed two pounds of quinoa and wheat berries, my checking account shrivels up with fear whenever I even drive past whole foods).

Ingredients in hand, I made my way home and pretended it was actually cold outside. This soup is so comforting, smooth and creamy, with just a hint of heat, it almost made me believe it was winter. (Can you tell I am a little bitter about this sorry excuse for "winter" we are having here in Chicago??) Accompanied by some crunchy roasted chickpeas and some homemade chive flatbread, this meal will definitely be made again and again when I am in need of a little warmth.

Egyptian Red Lentil Soup
adapted from Food & Wine magazine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
3 celery ribs, diced
2 large carrots, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon hot curry powder
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups red lentils (if you can't find red lentils, you can use a different color, you just won't have this beautiful color and it might change the cooking times)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large stockpot or dutch oven (as always I used my trusty 14-quart LeCrueset for this task since I made a double batch but an 8-10 quart pot will do) melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic and saute until soft, about 10-15 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, chili powder, and curry powder and stir to coat the veggies with the spices. Cook for a few minutes to toast the spices. Add the tomatoes and the stock and bring to a simmer. Season generously with salt and pepper and add the lentils. Simmer for about 30-40 minutes, until lentils and vegetables are very soft.

In a few batches, puree the soup in a food processor until completely smooth. Transfer back to pot and season with salt and pepper to taste. If you like it a bit more spicy, you can add a little cayenne pepper and more black pepper.

Serve with flatbread wedges and top with a bit of Greek yogurt mixed with lemon juice. I also garnished the soup with some roasted chickpeas and fresh chives. There are millions of recipes out there for roasted chickpeas, but basically just rinse and dry off some canned chickpeas (or my preferred name, garbanzo beans), toss them with a bit of olive oil and whatever seasonings you like, and roast them on a baking sheet in a really hot oven (400 F) until they are crispy. You don't need a recipe for that do you? No, you don't, I have faith in you. I just added all of the spices that I used in the soup along with some garlic powder and they were a perfect compliment to the creamy soup and tangy yogurt.

Chive Flatbreads
adapted from Food Network

2 packages instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
1 1/2 cup lukewarm water (aim for 90-100 degrees or just around body temperature, it will activate the yeast, don't go too hot or you can risk killing the yeast)
1 teaspoon oil or non-stick cooking spray

In a food processor, combine yeast, sugar, flour, and salt, pulse to combine. Slowly stream in the water while processor is on and mix just until a ball starts to form. Turn dough out onto a clean surface, and knead with the heels of your hands until the dough forms a nice elastic ball. This will probably take at least 10 minutes, so be patient. When the dough is ready you should be able to gather it into a tight ball and when you press your finger in, the imprint should spring back. If the imprint does not spring back at all, keep kneading. When the dough is just about ready, knead in the chives until thoroughly mixed in.

When the dough is fully kneaded, spray a glass or metal bowl with non stick cooking spray or coat lightly with oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn over a few times to coat. Cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel and place in a warm area for about an hour to rise. It should double in size. You can tell if the dough has sufficiently rested when you poke your finger into it and the imprint stays and does not spring back at all.

Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and punch it down to get all the excess air out of it. Cut the dough into about two ounce pieces and gather each piece into a ball. Place each ball under a damp towel while you are working on the rest, this will prevent them from drying out and forming a skin, plus it will give the gluten time to relax and make it easier to roll them out. When all the dough has been portioned and shaped, let rest under the towel for 10-20 minutes. After they have rested, heat a dry grill pan over medium-high heat. Take one or two of the piece (depending on how big your grill pan is) and roll each out to about 1/8 inch thickness (pretty thin). I had two ounce pieces and I rolled them out to be about six inches long by four inches wide. Place each flatbread on the grill pan and grill until it starts to puff up, then flip to cook the other side. It takes about 3-4 minutes total per flatbread if you have your pan hot enough.

Store in an airtight container for just a day or two. If you don't plan on eating them all within a day or so, put the remainder in the freezer as there is no fat in these breads and they get hard a chewy very quickly. I got about 15 flatbreads out of this recipe.

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