Spicy Egyptian Lentil Soup {the Khan}

I will admit that it took several nudges from my sister, while visiting her family in Egypt, for me to order a bowl of lentil soup.  I mean, lentil soup just honestly isn’t my thing.  Besides, I had already ordered a glass of fresh strawberry juice and some delicious looking shawarma (pretty much what we call gyros where I’m from), with meat sliced right from the rotating spit we sat next to.  I really didn’t see the need for any more food.

But Cheryl wouldn’t let go of it, saying that lentil soup is a very typical, yet tasty Egyptian soup, and she really thought I would like it.

So I gave in and ordered a bowl.

And it was completely not what I had expected.  I was predicting bland, possibly something similar to watered down refried beans.  But what filled my mouth was definitely not boring.  It packed heat.  Beautifully balanced, earthy, spicy heat.  And the squeeze of lemon over the top was bright and tangy, the perfect contrast.

I really didn’t want to share, but I handed the spoon to Blake.  And he pushed back quite a bit of that bowl himself.  I’d say that’s quite a testimony right there.

So shortly after returning home, I got to work recreating that memorable soup we ate on that sunny Cairo street.  And here’s what I came up with.  If you are able to find red lentils, that is probably what was used in the soup we ordered that day.  I used what I could easily find, which was green lentils.  Besides that difference, I do believe I came very close to that original faraway bowl.

Spicy Egyptian Lentil Soup

Yield: 6 to 8

Ingredients:

  • 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced into 1/4″ pieces
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large celery rib, diced into 1/4″ pieces
  • 1 large carrot, diced into 1/4″ pieces
  • 1 large baking potato, peeled and diced into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1-1/4 c. lentils (red or green)
  • 2 qts. vegetable broth
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. turmeric
  • 2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus additional lemon slices to serve alongside finished soup
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:

Over medium-high heat, in a large saucepan or small stockpot, heat the oil.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 or 3 minutes.  Add the celery and carrot and cook for another 5 minutes.  Add the potato, lentils, and vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until all the vegetables are very tender.  This should take 40 to 50 minutes.

Puree the soup in batches, using a blender, and return it back to the pot.  Or blend carefully right in the pot with an immersion blender.  Add the cumin, cayenne pepper, turmeric, and lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper.  I’m not known for adding much salt to my food, but I found myself adding more than I thought I would to boost the flavors.  Just add a bit at a time, tasting after each addition.

Serve the soup hot with slices of fresh lemon on the side.  Some warm fresh pocket bread would also be good with this meal.

a farmgirl’s dabbles

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Would you like to see where we headed after our bowl of lentil soup that day?

Just keep reading!

This is how we traveled.  I call it the Egyptian Piggyback.  See my niece on the right, on Dave’s one shoulder?  I loved watching the Egyptian women carrying their children this way.  Only over one shoulder. Unlike our daughter on the left, with both legs wrapped around Blake’s neck.

We were on our way to the Khan El Khalili, or simply, the Khan (market).  Established in the 14th century, this ancient market was a major hub for overland trade caravans from east to west.  The arch shown above is an entrance to Wakalat El-Ghouri, built in 1504 as a caravansaray, an inn for global merchants doing business at the market.

In the Cairo of today, the Khan caters to backpacking tourists and local Egyptians alike.  It was one of my favorite places for people watching and taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of life in this chaotically magnificent city.

The canvas covered streets and narrow alleys snake in and out, showcasing a wide variety of Egyptian born wares.  There’s jewelry of fine gold and silver, a variety of pottery, copper items, perfume and incense, alabaster, and no shortage of kitschy souvenirs.  If you like to haggle, this is the spot for you!  Haggling is completely not my thing, though, so I was happy to have my sister at our side, who frequents the market and has befriended some of the shop owners.  And she can haggle in Arabic.  Very, very useful.

We saw clothing ranging from American jeans to traditional galabayas…

to ornately beaded dance costumes that are so much a part of Egyptian custom.

My eyes feasted on these beautiful metal lamps, sold at a number of different places throughout the Khan. Each time they caught my eye, I tried to imagine where one might hang in our own home, and how I could fit it into our returning flight’s baggage.

In the Middle Ages, spices originating in the East were traded through Cairo to the Europeans.  We saw many scenes such as this across the city.  Bountiful burlaps of herbs and spices for sale.

This stall right here had to be our favorite stop.  Loaded with colorful recycled glass lamps, vases, and beads, this shop’s wares didn’t need to beg for our admiration.   We were already in love with this handiwork of Egypt.

These brilliant flower shaped beads held our attention for quite some time.

We had a number of necklaces made for ourselves and for gifts to take back with us.

So sweet…

so simple.

And then, all too soon, our day was coming to an end.  But not before this boy’s sweet smile and gorgeous date and spice filled pastries stole my sister’s heart.  It’s a wonderful thing to eat what the locals eat.  It adds so much to the whole experience.  And so we happily munched on our fresh baked goodness as we headed out of the market.

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If you would like to see more of our adventures in Egypt,
please visit here and here.

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I’m linking up with:

Robyn at Add a Pinch for Mingle Monday.  Please be sure to check out her latest project called Go Savor, that highlights foods encountered near and far, from a walk down the street to a walk in a foreign land.

I’m also joining Soup-a-Palooza at TidyMom and Dine and Dish, sponsored by Bush’s Beans, Hip Hostess, Pillsbury and Westminster Crackers! ….. I’m including Chicken Tortilla Soup and this Spicy Egyptian Lentil Soup!!