Cleopatra: Give me some music; music, the moody food
Of us that trade in love.
Or else...how about some soup? Soup, the tasty food
Of us that feed on lentils.
~ Antony and Cleopatra, 5.1.1-4 (sort of)
Okay, I added that last part. But that's what she might have said, because even the serpent of old Nile must occasionally have fed herself with something other than delicious poison. And what could be more welcome at the end of a long day of intrigue, seduction, and spectacular barge outings than a hot, nourishing bowl of soup? This one was inspired by the version served at Zooroona, an excellent Middle Eastern restaurant in Kalamazoo, MI (where we frequently attend the annual Medieval Congress), and I have to admit that I pretty much nailed it on the first try. Unlike most lentil soups, this one is pureed until mostly smooth, and the usual earthy flavors are brightened with fresh parsley and lemon juice, making for a hearty but surprisingly light repast. Or as Enobarbus might have put it,
...other soups cloy
The appetites they feed: but this makes hungry
Where most it satisfies.
So the next time you have immortal longings in you, forget about ordering that basket of asps and whip up a batch of this fine Egyptian cookery instead. That way, you shall have the fame - minus the unsightly snakebites - and a damn fine dinner, too!
Egyptian-Style Red Lentil Soup
~ 1-2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 cups chopped yellow onion
~ 1 cup each: diced celery, carrot
~ 1 large potato, cubed
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 tsp. each: cumin, dill
~ 1 tsp. each: sweet paprika, smoked paprika
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, turmeric
~ 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
~ A few grinds of fresh black pepper
~ 2 cups red lentils
~ 1/2 cup chopped, fresh parsley
~ 4 cups chopped, fresh baby spinach (or 1/2 lb. frozen chopped spinach, thawed)
~ 8 cups vegetable broth (I recommend Better Than Bouillon's "No Chicken" flavor)
~ 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
~ 2 tsp. za'atar
~ Extra parsley and lemon wedges to serve (optional)
~ In a large, deep pot, heat the oil and saute the onions, celery, carrots, and potato over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the garlic and the dry seasonings, and cook another minute or two.
~ Stir in the lentils and the broth, and raise the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low and simmer for an hour (stirring occasionally), until all the ingredients are very soft.
~ Add the baby spinach and fresh parsley and cook until just wilted.
~ Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Stir in the lemon juice and za'atar and puree with an immersion blender until mostly (but not totally) smooth. If it looks too thick, add a little water until you have the consistency you want.
~ Reheat the soup and serve hot with a sprinkle of parsley and lemon wedges. (A few glasses of "the juice of Egypt's grape" wouldn't come amiss, either; you know Cleopatra would have wanted it that way!)