Around the World in 30 Soups: This month we’re collaborating with chefs, cookbook authors, and our own Kitchn crew to share a globetrotting adventure in soups from countries and cuisines around the world. Today’s stop: Palestine.
Yasmin Khan’s deep research and cookbooks on the Middle East have become new favorites for many of us here, so we turned to her work on Palestine cooking and were really struck by the flavors and spice of this za’atar-flavored soup. (See how this herb is grown here.)
If there is one flavor that makes me think of the Palestinian kitchen, it is za’atar, a tangy and aromatic spice mix made from wild thyme, sesame, and sumac. Palestinians use za’atar on everything from yogurt dips, to roasted meats, to flatbreads — and here, it is used to make crunchy, tangy croutons to adorn an aromatic soup of roasted butternut squash and spiced lentils. Roasting the squash intensifies its flavor and sweetness, giving the soup a glorious silky texture that perfectly contrasts with the crispy croutons.
For the soup:
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into
Olive oil, or any neutral oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup dried red lentils, rinsed
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the toppings:
2 slices stale bread (I like to use sourdough for taste and texture)
2 tablespoons za’atar
Extra-virgin olive oil
Chopped parsley or cilantro leaves
1.Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2.Place the butternut squash on a baking sheet and drizzle with cooking oil. Toss the chunks so they are evenly coated in the oil, then roast for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are soft.
3.Heat 3 tablespoons cooking oil in a large saucepan, add the onions and fry for 10 minutes over a medium heat. Add the garlic, reduce the heat and cook for another few minutes.
4.Meanwhile, toast the cumin and A coriander seeds by stirring them in a dry pan over a low heat for a minute until their aromas are released. Grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, then add them and the cinnamon to the saucepan with the softened onions. Fry the spices for a few minutes.
5.Add the lentils and 1 quart of just-boiled water. Cover and simmer the soup for 10 minutes.
6.Once the lentils have softened, add the squash, stock, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Leave to simmer for another 10 minutes.
7.Once the lentils are fully cooked, take the pan off the heat and blend the soup with a hand-held blender. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your preference.
8.To make the croutons, roughly chop the bread into 1-inch chunks. Heat 3 tablespoons cooking oil in a frying pan and, once it is very hot, add the bread and sprinkle over the za’atar. Fry the bread, stirring frequently, until it is toasted and crunchy. Place the croutons on a paper towel to soak up any excess oil.
9.To serve, ladle the soup into warmed bowls, top with the croutons and finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of chopped herbs.
Legumes, domesticated in the Levant close to 10,000 years ago, are featured in some of the region’s oldest and best-loved dishes. Palestinian lentil soup, spiced with cumin and served with lashings of lemon juice, has become a symbol of home cooking.
Before cooking the lentils, rinse them well and check for any debris or other grains. Add the cumin in two stages: ½ teaspoon when frying the onions, and the rest after tasting the soup.