A couple of weeks ago, my husband, son and I headed out to celebrate my birthday. It was a cold snowy night here in the northern U.S. As we headed into town, my son said “Why don’t we go to another restaurant?” Really? Another restaurant? This is MY birthday I thought. He was referring to the Middle Eastern restaurant downtown, a quiet, small place that serves amazing authentic Middle Eastern food. I didn’t argue because, the weather was terrible and this place was certainly more conveniently located than the one I originally had in mind. The snow kept getting worse and I finally relented. Boy, am I glad I did!
My meal came with a Middle Eastern lentil soup that was simple, but gloriously flavorful and comforting. One spoonful and I was in love. My husband and son had to try of course! They both said “you need to make this at home.” So here we are, on a cold but sunny day I experimented and succeeded. I got a thumbs up from both of them. This recipe only has a few basic ingredients, but it is so delicious, you would think otherwise. The idea to use allspice was my son’s. I agree that it gives a lot of depth to the overall flavor. The lemon infusion at the end brightens up the flavors of this fabulous Middle Eastern lentil soup. One great thing about lentils is that they don’t take as long to soften as other beans, so this Middle Eastern soup can be made in very little time.
Lentils are thought to have originated in Central Asia, and one of the first foods to have been cultivated nearly 8,000 years ago. Lentils are mentioned in the Bible on a couple of occasions: Jacob traded his brother Esau his birthright for a bowl of lentils. Jacob was hungry after spending all day working in the fields. Lentils were also used by the Jewish people to make a bread during the exile years in Babylon. Today the leading producers of lentils are: India, Syria, China and Turkey. Lentils are super healthy! 1 cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of dietary fiber. Lentils are also rich in B vitamins, potassium, Calcium and Zinc.
If you like the exotic flavors of Middle Eastern food here are some of my favorites you can bookmark for later or pin them on Pinterest.
Chicken shawarma is a dish you can make on the grill or pan sear with small pieces of chicken, a tasty spice bend and then wrap in a pita with a tomato, onions and top with a yogurt sauce.
Zatar or za’atar is a spice blend you can easily make at home for dipping oils, sprinkle on hummus or toasted pita bread.
Lamb stew infused with rose water, dried apricots, cherries and almonds has a really nice combination of sweet and savory flavors in a rich broth.
A salad to try would be a traditional Middle Eastern style tabouleh or tabbouleh that consists of lots of parsley along with bulgur wheat, mint, tomato and onions. You will love the bright flavors in this dish!
Your meal Middle Eastern dinner would not be complete without a dessert of these pistachio rose water shortbread cookies. These are so easy to make and have such a nice floral note.
Middle Eastern Lentil Soup
Healthy and full of flavor! Middle Eastern lentil soup is simple yet it has exotic flavors you won't forget! This is one of my all time favorite soups!
In a soup pot heat olive oil. Add the onion, celery, carrots, and garlic. Saute until onion is translucent. Add 4 cups of broth and the lentils. Bring to a boil and cook until the vegetables are tender. Add cumin, salt, and allspice. Turn down heat and allow to simmer for about 30-40 minutes.
Using an immersion blender blend solids thoroughly.
Add the remaining broth and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.
Add the lemon juice.