When served during the Nine Days of Tisha B’Av, lentil soup is traditionally accompanied with cheese borekas for a complete meal, although you can serve this soup any time you like. Méri Badi's recipe is fairly austere, but some optional spicing would be a pinch or two of ground cumin, a small pinch of cayenne, and a spritz of lemon juice to brighten the flavors. Sometimes cooked wheat or rice is added. Greek Jews commonly pass olive oil and vinegar at the table.
Pick over the lentils for any stones or other impurities and rinse well. Place in a bowl with water to cover and let stand for a few hours. Drain.
Warm the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the lentils, celery, carrots, tomatoes or tomato paste (if using), parsley, bay leaf, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 1 hour.
Remove the bay leaf and add the salt, pepper to taste, the cumin, and the cayenne and lemon juice or vinegar to taste, if using. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Ladle into bowls and serve.
© 2000 Joyce Goldstein. All rights reserved.