It’s late at night and you are exhausted after a -no mercy, endless- frustrating day… and you have to cook for dinner, for tomorrow, -it doesn’t really matter why- you have to put a meal on the table somehow. How many times you have experienced that….like a zillion? Recipe-rescue is on the way. Mediterranean lentil soup. Grab some onion, garlic, tomato, bay leaves, veggies….in the pot for about 30 minutes and voilà. You can all benefit from that speedy, no-fuss meal which is healthy and very filling. But the best part of all is that kids are crazy about it. I mean it!! It is on the weekly family menu and it can satisfy even the picky eaters.
Lentil soup (fakes in Greek) is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. Don’t let the word “soup” to mislead you and put that recipe in the winter menu because we eat it all year long, even in hot summer days. You won’t easily find it at restaurants and taverns because it is mostly a home-cooked dish. There are of course different versions according to seasons, local ingredients, and personal preferences and delicious variations all around the Mediterranean like this Mujadara recipe.
WHY SHOULD I EAT THIS?
Lentils are part of the legumes family and hold an important role in the Mediterranean way of eating. They are a high-fiber, protein, and antioxidant food and nutritionally it is a great choice for those who like to combine health and taste.
However, they contain phytic acid which is an antinutrient because it binds the minerals iron, zinc, and small amount of calcium in the digestive tract. We don’t want this. Our body should absorb the maximum amount of all the good stuff we eat. How we could overcome phytic acid as an antinutrient and benefit from all the key components of legumes like proteins, antioxidants, and fiber? The answer is: soak, sprout, ferment, heating!
When lentils are on the weekly meal plan, I put them in water for 8 hours and then sprout them for another 12 hours. This is the best way to ensure the absorption of minerals and proteins and reduce cooking time. When lentils are a last-minute decision, I just boil them for 2-3 minutes and dump the water. I admit that this is not the ideal way to overcome phytic acid, plus the heat is possible to destroy phytase and vitamin C. My advice is to choose soaking and sprouting as this procedure neutralizes the inhibitors.
MEDITERRANEAN LENTIL SOUP FOR EVERYONE
Make the version your family would enjoy
If you want to introduce lentils to either your picky eaters or to your meat-and-potatoes hubby or to yourself, keep the main body of the recipe and add the veggies you like. This recipe calls for carrots, celery, and tomatoes balanced with the right herbs and spices. It’s totally ok to make a version with your favorite vegetable. You may even make the basic version without veggies. No problem. Keep the onion, garlic, bay leaves, and tomato paste (or passata) and it will be amazing as well. Promise. I’ ve been making this no-veggies version for years because my older son couldn’t stand the carrot’s texture and the celery’s taste. Now, he usually asks for a second plate and he has no problem eating the same dish for lunch and dinner.
For that one, I avoid the sautéing procedure and therefore we have an even healthier outcome which isn’t lacking in taste. I add the quantity of extra virgin olive oil I want at the end when the boiling procedure is over and there are no bubbles on the mixture’s surface. In that way, the olive oil keeps its nutritional value, the soup is lighter and the flavor is outstanding.
Tomato is extremely important in this recipe. Iron from plant sources is absorbed in small amount and we could enhance the absorption with tomato which contains vitamin C. Additionally, combine tomato or other vitamin C sources with lentils. For example, drink fresh orange juice with your meal or eat salad and vegetables served with lemon. Lentils and tomatoes don’t get along because the acid in tomatoes can prevent the lentils from softening resulting in crunchy lentils. This is why I usually save adding the tomato products for last.
The addition of turmeric and cumin is relatively new in my recipe. I love turmeric for that neutral and earthy flavor and I absolutely adore the boldness of cumin. It is one of my favorite spices. Sadly enough, my 3 men clan hate it. That’s why I add just enough quantity (usually 1/4 teaspoon) for me to enjoy and for my men not to complain. Delicious.
READY! NOW, WHAT?
Serve your Mediterranean lentil soup with red wine vinegar and you will enhance mineral absorption, offset phytic acid, and succeed an intriguing taste. No more than a tablespoon (or less if it is not your favorable taste). The addition of a tablespoon of red wine vinegar takes the flavor to another level and makes your Mediterranean lentil soup so unique. Don’t skip the vinegar. Highly recommended.
My family loves this dish because it is so delicious as it is. However, when it is served with crusty homemade whole wheat bread or pita bread, a cabbage salad, cured anchovies, and Kalamata olives this dish is a whole new culinary experience.
Not over yet! Serve it with a fruity white wine like Moschofilero or a rose Xinomavro and have a wonderful dinner.
Mediterranean Lentil Soup
- 1½ cup (300g) dry brown lentils
- 5-6cups (1-1½liter) water or vegetable stock
- 2 onions, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, cut in chunks
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 2 celery sticks
- 2 bay leaves
- ¾ cup (200g) passata or can chopped tomatoes or 3 fresh chopped tomatoes and/or 1 tablespoon tomato paste*, dissolved in 6 tablespoons water
- ¼ cup (60ml) olive oil
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar for serving each plate
- Salt and pepper
- If you have time, soak the lentils overnight in a bowl with lots of water. If not, put the lentils in a large pot and cover them with water. Boil for 2-3 minutes, rinse and drain. Clean the pot, put 5 cups of water (or vegetable stock) over medium heat.
- Add the lentils, the onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and bay leaves. Cover the pot and simmer over medium to low heat for 30 minutes. Soaking and sprouting reduce considerably the cooking time. If the lentils are soft enough, proceed immediately to the next step.
- Add the passata or chopped tomato and/or the dissolved tomato paste*. Add the turmeric and cumin and season to taste. Simmer for another 15 minutes until the lentils are soft.
- Adjust the amount of water/vegetable stock whether you like watery soup or thick soup. If you add more liquid, it should be hot. Add the olive oil 2-3 minutes before you remove the pot from the heat.
- Serve each plate with 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar.
Note: This post originally appeared on 30 days of Greek food in 2017. It has recently been updated with new photos and content so that the readers will benefit and enjoy it even more!