From fancy seafood restaurants nestled in picturesque fishing villages on the Black Sea to a simple local lokanta “a greasy spoon,” in any town I went to in Turkey, the soup was always the same, even if the menu suggested asking a waiter about the Soup of the Day. Inevitably it was lentil soup served with a wedge of lemon on the side along with a bowl of crusty bread.
I’m not complaining about the soup – far from it, in fact I used to look forward to it in every place I ate because it was always different while being essential lentil. I suppose that’s why they called it Mercimek Çorbasi, lentil soup! There were variations from one end of the Black Sea, the Amasra end, nearer to Istanbul and Trabzon at the far eastern end where Georgia begins but always there were lentil, lemon, coriander and cumin seed and garlic. Variations could include carrots, potatoes, pepper, sumac, sweet paprika, dried oregano and dried mint, the whole lot slow cooked before being mashed.
Recently, I have tried just about all the variations and this is the one I like best.
1 mug-full red lentils 1 medium brown onion
1 carrot 3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp cumin seeds 1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp sumac* 1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp dried oregano 2 cloves garlic
1 Tblsp Tomato paste 6 mugs of vegetable broth or water
First, I dry roasted the coriander in a small pot over a high heat for about two minutes until I could get their nutty fragrance. Tip them into a bowl to cool. Dry roast the cumin seeds then in the same heated pot, but for a much shorter time – about a minute and set aside to cool.
Chop the carrot and the onion – I used two smallish ones here – and heat the oil in a pan before tipping the carrots in and stir-frying them for a minute or two. Add the chopped onion and squashed garlic and continue to stir-fry.
Grind up the roasted seeds and toss into the onion and carrot mix, along with the tomato paste, paprika and the sumac.
Stir and mix everything thoroughly and then add the red lentils. (I also used a few yellow split peas leftover from something else, probably less than a quarter of a mug’s worth), before adding about 6 mugs of boiling water or vegetable broth – I used a vegetable stock cube.
Bring everything up the boil and then simmer, partially covered. Stir every so often until the chopped bits of carrot are mushy and the lentils are very soft.
Let it cool and then whizz it to make a type of puree. If it is too thick, dilute it with more stock. Serve with a wedge of lemon to squeeze into it; a good sprinkle of salt and some warm crusty bread and it is comfort food all by itself.
OK, OK, I know it might not look the most appealing but it tastes amazing, really!
* Sumac is a small deep red berry, dried and crushed to impart a tangy citrus flavour throughout Turkey and surrounding areas.