Saturday, March 06, 2010

Lebanese Spinach and Lentil Soup - Rishta

I think I've blogged before about my love affair with lentils. If not, well, suffice it to say that I adore lentils! I always have, even as a child. Don't ask me why, I just do. As with all great love affairs in history, I spend as much time as possible with my beloved. On Thursday night, I made rishta, a wonderful, homey, Lebanese lentil and spinach soup.

My Lebanese mother-in-law was an outstanding cook, and while we often had different opinions, she always loved that I appreciated her cooking. She made the first rishta I ever had, and I was smitten, so I went home and tried to duplicate it. No luck - mine was just not as good as hers, and she NEVER gave recipes out. She did this because it meant that she would have lots of people visiting and she could cook for them. Old-time Lebanese women never wonder why they were created, or what their role in life is - they already know that it's to feed hungry people! Then we visited her sister Rose one day, and as we were visiting, she decided to cook something for us. That something was rishta. The best rishta in the entire world. Aunt Rose laughed at me because I was nearly swooning with bliss, and Uncle George said to my husband, "That's an odd one you got there, Jerry." Of course, I asked for the recipe, and Aunt Rose told me the secret to good rishta. It was like hitting the motherlode! When we got home that day, I immediately made a pot. In fact, I made so much rishta over the next month or two that Jerry finally asked me to stop!

The other night, I needed to use about a half pound of fresh, organic baby spinach, and rishta floated into my mind. I haven't made it in a long time and decided to whip up a pot. I also had a pound of frozen spinach and I always have lots of lentils on hand, so I was in business. Hunger dictated that I use store-bought noodles instead of making my own, but if you just happen to baking some pita bread, use one ball of dough for the noodles. Just roll it out very thinly, maybe 1/8 inch, cut into 1/4 inch strips, then slice diagonally so they are about 1 inch in length. Here is my recipe:


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1-1/2 tsp dried basil
1 Tbs ground coriander seed
1 cup brown or green lentils, picked over and washed
1 Tbs bouillion powder (I like Vogue Veggie Base)
1 bay leaf
8 cups water
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 lb baby spinach or chopped spinach, fresh or frozen, or other greens such as chard
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup broken vermicelli or other soup noodles

Pick over and wash the lentils. Place in a soup pot with the bay leaf, bouillion powder and water, and simmer until the lentils are almost tender - about 35 minutes or so. While the lentils are simmering, prepare the onions. Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the onion till beginning to carmelize. Add basil, coriander, garlic to the onions. Season with salt and pepper and continue to saute until the edges of the onion are carmelized and the spices are very fragrant. Add the sauteed onions to the pot, scraping every last bit of goodness out of the frying pan and into the soup pot and bring back to a simmer. Add in the pasta and simmer for a couple of minutes while you wash and chop the spinach. Add the spinach and taste for salt and pepper. When the pasta is done, the soup is ready to eat. This is traditionally served with a squeeze of lemon juice in each individual bowl. This made 4 hearty servings.

Aunt Rose told me that Syrians sometimes put tomatoes in as well, but she would never do such a thing! I never do either, but its a thought...

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