There are many reasons we miss Senait, our nanny of nine years… but one of them is this soup that she would make for us! Today I set out to recreate her bright yellow, creamy lentil soup, which is very different from the chunky and dark brown lentil soup that we are used to in the US. I found various recipes in my cookbook collection that had potential, such as Shorbet Adds (Spiced Creamy Lentil Soup) from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, Curried Red Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk from Jeanne Lemlin’s Simple Vegetarian Pleasures, and Red Lentil Soup with Lime from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I also found some promising looking recipes online, like Silk Road Recipes’ “Lebanese Red Lentil Soup” and Loving It Vegan’s “Vegan Lentil Soup (Middle Eastern Style).” But none of these seemed to capture the perfect simplicity of Senait’s soup.
So I reached out to the source! In our Whatsapp conversation, Senait confirmed that she did not use carrots or any spices other than turmeric and salt. Thus armed, I set out to create her creamy red lentil soup. This easy soup does not have many ingredients. All you need are two fats (butter and olive oil), two garnishes (lemon wedges and pita bread croutons), and six simple ingredients for the soup itself—onion, garlic, turmeric, salt, red lentils, and veggie broth. The creaminess comes from the pureeing process at the end, so if you omit the butter, this becomes a vegetarian and vegan soup as well!
At the dinner table, my youngest professed that this soup tasted just like our nanny’s. Well, that’s the highest compliment I can hope for!
Middle East Creamy Red Lentil Soup
2 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4-5 large cloves garlic, diced
1 T turmeric
1 t salt
8 cups vegetable broth (can also use water)
1 lb red lentils (masoor dal)
Whole wheat pita bread
Melt butter and olive oil together in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened and beginning to color, up to seven minutes. Add the garlic, turmeric, and salt, and stir for 30-60 seconds until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the lentils and toss to coat. Add the vegetable broth and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, until lentils are fully cooked, stirring occasionally. Let cool, then blend to a smooth puree.
Separately, preheat your broiler on low. Split and open the pita bread and toast them under the broiler (watch carefully!), turning once, until they are crisp and lightly browned. You can brush olive oil and toss kosher salt on them before the toasting if desired. Once toasted, break the pita into small pieces to make the croutons.
Serve the soup with lemon wedges and croutons on the side.
We miss you, Senait!