Turkish Red Lentil Soup with Paprika and Mint Sizzle

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    4

Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

Among the well-traveled, well-heeled, fast-moving Istanbul set, Restaurant Develi is known as a “carnivore’s mecca” for the incredible quality of its lamb kebabs. The kebabs, made from hand-chopped lamb laced with plenty of sheep’s tail fat, taste great and literally melt in your mouth.

Good as the kebabs are, it’s the red lentil soup that keeps bringing me back. Creamy as crème fraîche, it seems to coat the tongue with satin. It’s sharply seasoned, too, garnished with paprika, a mint-infused olive oil sizzle, and tiny cubes of toasted bread. It is amazing how much a simple scattering of bread cubes can lift a dish.

Owner Arif Develi watches over his restaurant as closely as Venetian Harry Cipriani watches over his. Arif considers himself a culinary guardian. Sounding a little like a California chef, he tells me: “I only use young male lambs from the region of Trakya. I buy my lentils from Gaziantep, my butter from Sanliurfa, my red pepper and rice from Kahraman-maras. You see, I use only the finest ingredients!

“When I was growing up in southeastern Turkey,” Arif tells me, “my mother, a widow, had to watch every penny. To stretch this soup, she added cubed and toasted bread. I still keep the tradition!”

Ingredients

  • 1 cup red lentils
  • cup grated onion
  • ½ teaspoon crushed garlic
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons Turkish or Aleppo red pepper flakes
  • Sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups meat stock
  • 1 teaspoon crushed dried mint, preferably Egyptian spearmint (see Mail Order Sources)
  • 2 tablespoons white rice
  • ½ cup canned tomatoes or tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup cubed bread croutons, fried in butter until golden

Method

  1. Rinse the lentils and drain. Place the onion, garlic, and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a deep saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring gently for 5 minutes. Add the lentils, rice, tomato, and quarts water. Cover, bring to a boil, and skim carefully. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally The soup should develop a creamy consistency. If desired, cool slightly, then press through a food mill. Correct the seasoning with salt to taste.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small skillet or saucepan, make a roux with the flour and 2 tablespoons of the butter until it reaches the color of hazelnuts and has a delightful aroma. Gradually add the stock, stirring constantly until smooth. Scrape the roux and stock mixture into the soup and cook, whisking, for 5 minutes. Add salt to taste and cook for a few minutes longer.
  3. Just before serving, make the paprika and mint sizzle: Press the mint and red pepper flakes through a fine sieve or whirl in a spice grinder to a fine powder. In the same small skillet, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Add the powdered aromatics and heat until just sizzling. Pour over the soup in swirls. Cover and bring to the table. Fold in the aromatic swirls just before ladling the soup into individual serving bowls. Serve with the croutons.