A friend of mine travelled to Turkey recently and asked me which spice she could pick up for me at the Istanbul Spice Market. There is something exhilarating (at least for me) to obtain a spice from its country of origin instead of buying it locally. And lucky for me, since I was not going to Turkey anytime soon, she brought me a huge bag of Turkish Maras pepper flakes. I was thrilled and intrigued to find recipes using this unique spice. The Maras pepper flake does not have the mild smokiness of the Turkish Urfa pepper used in a recent post (Smoky Eggplant Puree with Urfa Pepper and Pine Nuts), but instead, is bright red, has fruity undertones and is a medium hot pepper.
On a chilly Ottawa winter’s day, this delicious Turkish Red Lentil Soup found in the Boston Globe is a perfect vegetarian meal in a bowl. It is filled with the hearty ingredients of lentils, chickpeas and bulgur and kicked up a notch with the addition of the Maras pepper flakes. The basic ingredients are onion, celery, carrots, jalapeno pepper, paprika, cumin, Maras pepper flakes and tomato paste.
The ingredients that add a variety of textures are chickpeas, red lentils, bulgur and tomato puree (passata, strained tomatoes). I made three changes to the original recipe: 1) the original recipe uses dried chickpeas that need to be soaked overnight but for convenience, I used a can of drained chickpeas; 2) I chose bulgur over white rice for a more middle eastern flair; and, 3) instead of fresh peeled crushed tomatoes, which sounded like a lot of work, I used passata, tomato puree easily found on the supermarket shelves.
Heat some olive oil in a soup pot and stir in the chopped onions and celery, followed by the chopped jalapeno and salt and then the cumin, paprika and pepper. Within a minute, you will smell the aromatic spices.
Add 10 cups of water and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer for about 30 minutes. By now, the lentils should have almost melted into a puree. Add extra salt and/or maras pepper, if desired.
Serve garnished with a sprinkle of pepper flakes and a sprig of mint. This soup has a mild spiciness that was loved by all. Thumbs up in my household. It will be a regular meal at my table.
Turkish Red Lentil Soup
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 jalapeno or other hot pepper, seeded and chopped
Salt, to taste
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. crushed Maras red pepper, or to taste
1 can drained, rinsed chickpeas (19 oz.)
2 cups dried red lentils
1/4 cup bulgur
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup pureed tomatoes (passata)
10 cups water
Extra crush red pepper and 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint for garnish, if desired
- In a soup pot, heat the oil, and add the onion and celery. Cook, stirring often, for 8 minutes. Add the jalapeno pepper and salt. Continue cooking, stirring often, for 2 minutes more.
- Add the cumin, paprika, and pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until the spices are aromatic.
- Add the chickpeas, lentils, and bulgur or rice. Continue cooking and stirring for 30 seconds more or until they are coated with the spices. Stir in the tomato puree and tomato paste.
- Add the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the lentils have almost turned into a puree. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and crushed red pepper if you like.