A red lentil soup, “Mercimek Çorbası”, is a popular starter in Turkish cuisine. We also enjoy it as a full meal and for this we simply double the amount. All families and restaurants prepare the soup a little differently. The version shown here is vegan.
Red lentils should be available everywhere. They are small, deep orange and cook very quickly, in about 20 minutes.
You also need onions, carrots and potato in roughly equal parts. We add celery for more flavour. A lemon is a must for seasoning this soup.
The vegetables are washed, peeled and then roughly diced. Since the soup will be pureed later, you don’t have to work precisely. The potato peelings go on the compost, we keep all the other peelings and cuttings in the fridge until we use them to make vegetable stock.
In a large saucepan, sauté the vegetables with 2 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat until they begin to smell fragrant. We add chilli and do this at this stage so that the spiciness is evenly distributed across all the ingredients. We love spiciness mainly as a subtle experience, if you add spicy ingredients late, their spiciness comes very much to the foreground and can easily overpower the flavour of other ingredients.
It is essential to wash the lentils thoroughly. To do this, we put them in a fine sieve, which we immerse in a bowl of water and then stir the lentils thoroughly by hand. The water will immediately become cloudy and may need to be replaced once. But you need less water this way than if you hold the lentils under the running tap. Sometimes you read that the lentils have to be washed with hot water. But we don’t see any difference and therefore think it is a waste of energy.
The lentils are added to the vegetables and covered with 1.5 litres of water, which is brought to the boil. Foam will form, no matter how thoroughly you have washed the lentils. If it is not much more than shown here, you can ignore it. If there is more, you should skim it off with a ladle.
Once the soup has boiled, reduce the temperature to medium heat so that it just simmers gently. Do not put a lid on lentils and pasta, otherwise it will boil over quickly. Don’t forget to stir the bottom thoroughly every now and then, otherwise the dish will burn.
After a good 20 minutes, the potatoes are soft and the lentils have become mushy. Now season with 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, about 1 teaspoon salt (to taste) and – very important for this soup – 1 teaspoon dried mint.
We add the juice of half of the lemon, stir well and turn the temperature down even further so that the soup remains just warm (for us: level 2 of 10). Tip: Always let the juice of the squeezed lemon run through your fingers, so that no pips get into the food.
Now use the hand blender and puree the soup thoroughly. If it seems too thick, add a little water. As you can see, the lentils have taken on a yellow colour through cooking:
In a second, small pot, heat another 2 tbsp of olive oil and then add tomato paste, a very typical ingredient of Turkish cuisine.
Now fry the tomato paste in the hot oil for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring, so that it loses its acidity and bitterness. You don’t need to make a homogeneous mass and you don’t need to fry it longer, the tomato paste should not brown.
Then add the mixture to the soup and stir in with a whisk.
Now it is time to season with salt and possibly the other spices one last time. However, if you add the other spices, the soup should be simmered gently for a few more minutes so that they can fully develop their flavours.
The typical character of this dish comes from the dried mint and the lemon juice, both of which should be noticeable. For individual adjustment, the soup is usually served with a wedge of lemon so that you can add more juice. We also like to garnish with some fresh mint.
And may the taste be with you.
Ingredients (for 4 people as a starter):
200 g red lentils
Approx. 150 g each onions, carrots, celery and potatoes
1.5 l water
Salt, pepper, dried thyme, dried mint
Chilli or cayenne to taste
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp tomato paste