Red Lentil Soup with Grains and Spicy Aromatic Oil

Variations on this heartwarming, vegan soup are infinite. The creamy red lentils regain their attractive color, which is lost when they are boiled alone, when they are cooked with carrots, tomato paste and plenty of Maraş pepper.

My recipe is inspired by the soups of Gaziantep, which often combine bulgur and/or chickpeas with the lentils.


Photo by PENNY DE LOS SANTOS  from my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts.     


The pulses in Turkey are usually cooked with lamb or beef bones to add body, and the soup is finished with aromatic-infused butter, though olive oil is an excellent alternative.

Vegetarians can make the soup more substantial by adding diced feta, as Costas and I do, or complement with grilled halloumi cheese.



Serves 6 to 8



1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil, plus 1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil


1 cup (160 g) chopped onions


1 teaspoon salt


1 cup (220 g) red lentils rinsed in a colander under running water


2 medium carrots, thinly sliced


1 cup (160 g) precooked wheat berries (see Note)


1/2 cup (100 g) precooked chickpeas (optional)


1 tablespoon turmeric


3 tablespoons tomato paste


1 to 2 teaspoons Maraş pepper or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, to taste


1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons combination of cumin, ground coriander, and dried basil, to taste


1/4 cup (15 g) chopped fresh basil leaves, or shredded fresh tarragon plus 1 teaspoon or more dried basil or tarragon; reserve extra leaves to decorate


Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Sumac, for sprinkling (optional)



In a thick-bottomed pot, warm 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil, add the onions, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, and sauté for about 6 minutes, until the onions are soft.


Add the lentils and carrots, turn a couple of times in the oil, and pour in 2 quarts (2 L) water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding more water as needed to keep the lentils covered.


Add the wheat berries, the chickpeas, if using, the turmeric, the tomato paste, the Maraş pepper, and the spice blend. Stir to incorporate and add more water to cover. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, simmering for at least 20 minutes, until all the ingredients are very soft. Taste and adjust the seasoning.


Purée the soup to a thick, chunky consistency with a stick blender, or transfer to a food processor and pulse several times.


In a skillet, over very low heat, warm the extra-virgin olive oil with the fresh and dried basil or tarragon  and plenty of pepper.


Serve the soup in bowls, adding swirls of the basil or tarragon-infused oil, decorating with herb leaves, and sprinklings of sumac, if you like. Also, add 1-2 tablespoons diced feta cheese, if you like.



Precooking Pearl Barley, Wheat Berries, and Farro


Pearl barley, wheat berries, and farro need longer cooking than rice or bulgur, but their incomparable earthy, nutty flavor is ample compensation for the extra work. In order to be able to add the grains to stuffing and pilafs whenever you feel like it, precook 1 to 2 pounds (455 to 910 g) of your favorite grains and keep them in the freezer.


Makes 2 1/2 to 3 cups (400 to 480 g) cooked grains


1 cup pearl barley, wheat berries, or farro


Place the grains in a pot and add cold water to cover by 2 inches (5 cm). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer half the time recommended on the package. Cooking times vary greatly between brands, so carefully check the cooking times suggested on the package.

Taste, and if the grains are still quite hard, continue cooking. Taste again after 10 minutes. You want the grains al dente, not mushy. Drain and let cool completely, then transfer to a zip-top bag and freeze flat. They will keep for up to 6 months.


To finish cooking, take out the bag, beat on the counter to loosen the grains, and use as many as you need. Close the bag and return to the freezer.







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An Eastern Mediterranean Staple: Ksinohondro, Trahana, and Kishk

 This traditional fermented ‘pasta,’ an ancient staple, is made in the summer with coarsely ground grains – wheat or barley – and milk or yogurt.  

Adapted from Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

Scroll down to find the basic recipe for the traditional soup or porridge. 


The two essential ingredients are transformed into a flavorful and nourishing ‘pasta’ for the winter months. Though I can’t prove it, I have a hunch that early agricultural communities, in different parts of the world, thought up methods to combine and preserve grain and dairy; this is why fermented ‘pasta’ comes in distinct regional variations throughout the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean.


I wouldn’t suggest that you make your own ksinohondro and/or  kishk if there were good-quality commercial alternatives. In Chania, Crete, women sell wonderful homemade ksinohondro at the weekly farmer’s markets of this beautiful city; but unless you know somebody on the island to buy it for you, this delicious, traditional staple is seldom available elsewhere in Greece. On Lesbos island a similar ‘pasta’ is called ‘trahana’ and is often shaped into cup-like forms.   (more…)


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Butternut Squash Soup with Yogurt

This is the soup I make often varying the ingredients slightly –with more onion or leek, sometimes adding chopped, dried mushrooms instead of the chicken broth. The topping also may vary; once I made a kind of caper-scallion-chard pesto instead of the fried peas.

Just toasted pine nuts with chopped cilantro are also a fine, simpler topping for this comforting winter soup.


Serves 6-8  (more…)


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MAGIRITSA –Easter Lamb Soup

Magiritsa is traditionally made with the parts of the lamb not used for spit-roasting. Remember that Greek Easter lambs are very small (about 24 pounds). In the classic recipe, all the innards –heart, lungs, and so forth– go into the pot, but they do not really contribute to taste. The flavor of the stock comes from the boiled head and neck, and the soup gets its distinctive taste from scallions, fresh dill, and egg-and-lemon sauce. There are lots of different magiritsa recipes.

Adapted from The Foods of Greece.




A friend described to me the one her family prepared in Halki, a small island in the Dodecanese. In her family’s version, no innards are used because, on Halki as on all the Dodecanese islands, people do not roast the lamb on a spit, but slow roast it in a wood-burning oven, stuffing the cavity with rice and chopped innards. In Halki’s magiritsa, many lamb’s heads were boiled to make a very tasty stock. The heads were not boned, but as they cooked for many hours, even the bones softened. Each member of the family got one head and ate it with the broth. No scallions or dill were added to that unusual magiritsa. (more…)


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