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Warmly spiced red lentil & tomato soup

These days, it’s all about the small wins.  As I navigate yet another lockdown and a return to all four boys in home school during the bleak mid winter, I look for those moments of mundane minutiae that spark a little kitchen boogie, a victory air punch or a sneaky smile to keep me going and preserve my mental health.

Contending with three adolescent male appetites (and one little bird) for our prolonged period of intense family time, I’m seriously losing steam on the lunch front. This week kicked off with fish finger sandwiches.  No, they were NOT home made, but they were on shiny soft brioche buns from the farmers market (all the Bougie points here). Tuesday followed on with tortellini.  Also not home made.  By Thursday the temperature had dropped again, we were further locked in with torrential rain and I was crying out for soup (an option usually rejected by the masses here unless its chicken).

Finding myself with both a glut of red lentils and a desire to be anywhere but here, I embarked on my journey of cooking my way out of a crisis and simultaneously using up surplus ingredients lurking around the place. Cue an old comforting favourite – a warmly spiced lentil soup with cumin and Aleppo pepper, taking me back to sunnier days in the spice markets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  Loosely based on a traditional Middle Eastern staple (usually made with red or brown lentils), I added the lonely sweet potato hanging around in the bottom of the basket for a little extra sweetness and threw in a couple of tins of tomatoes to hopefully make it more palatable for the lentil soup haters here.

I sold these steaming bowls of velvety burnt orange deliciousness as cream of tomato soup.  And the lentil haters lapped it up with toasted cheese sandwiches (Bouchon Bakery style) as I stood in the corner smugly smiling to myself.  It’s all about the small wins.

A few notes:  The sweet potato in this soup was a happy accident  because I had one hanging around and I love the texture it added to the soup when it was all blended together, but I have made this many times without and its still absolutely delicious.  Same goes for the leek – great if you have one but if you don’t please do not let it deter you.  Throw in what you’ve got.

If I was not selling this as cream of tomato soup, I would be tempted to add some wilted buttered spinach after blitzing and just before serving for colour and added interest.

The squeeze of lemon at the end just before serving it CRUCIAL and a complete flavour game changer here.  It pulls the whole dish together and really should not under any circumstances be left out……

*Recipe by Hannah from Building Feasts.

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Ingredients

1 medium onion

1 large carrot

1 leek

2 sticks of celery (with leaves if they are available)

2 cloves of garlic

1 tbsp vegan butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt & a good few grinds of pepper

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp Aleppo pepper flakes or 1/2 tsp chili flakes

1 medium sweet potato (optional, see note above)

250g (1 cup) red lentils

2 x 400g tins of tomatoes

2 fresh bay leaves

1.5 litres (6 cups) vegetable stock

Instructions

1

Peel and chop the onion, carrot, leek and celery (including any leaves) into small 1cm-ish pieces.  They don’t have to be perfect – you are going to blitz everything together at the end.

2

Place a medium or large saucepan on a medium heat and melt the vegan butter and olive oil together.

3

Add the chopped vegetables, season with salt and pepper and sweat gently until the onion becomes soft and translucent (5-7 minutes), stirring occasionally.

4

While they are cooking, slice or chop the garlic and peel and dice the sweet potato.

5

Once the onion has started to soften, add the garlic, cumin and Aleppo pepper and cook for another minute or two to allow the spices to release their flavour.

6

Rinse the lentils in a strainer under cold water and add them to the aromatics in the pot with the chopped sweet potato and tins of tomatoes.

7

Cover with the stock, throw in the bay leaves, bring to a gentle boil and simmer for 30 minutes or so until the lentils are cooked and the sweet potato is soft.

8

Cool until its no longer scalding hot, remove the bay leaves and blitz in a blender, food processor or with a soup wand until smooth and creamy. You may need to add a little more liquid depending on the age of your lentils and how much stock they absorbed while cooking.

Check for seasoning and ladle into soup bowls. Squeeze over the juice from a good wedge of lemon before devouring and calming all your winter lockdown blues.
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