This soup, which originated in the Belgian port of Ostend, is satisfying enough to serve as a main course. The earthiness of the lentils provides a good background for the delicate flavour of the mussels.
Put the lentils into a large pan with the onion, celery, bay leaf and stock or water. Season with pepper and cumin, bring slowly to the boil, then cover and simmer until the lentils are soft, about 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and purée until smooth. Add the lemon juice.
While the lentils are cooking, scrub the mussels and remove the beards, discarding any that are broken or gaping open. Put the mussels in a large pan with 80ml of water, cover and steam, shaking the pan from time to time, until the shells open (discard any that don’t). Drain into a colander set over a large bowl. Discard the shells and put the mussels into a bowl. Strain the mussel liquor through a very fine sieve or one lined with damp muslin.
Stir the mussels and liquor into the soup. If the soup is too thick, add a little water. Taste and adjust the seasoning; the mussels should add enough saltiness. Heat through gently, sprinkle over the chives and serve.
Instead of mussels, finish the soup with pieces of firm white fish, such as sea bass, halibut, monkfish or bream. Cut about 350g of fillet into pieces of
© 2005 Jill Norman. All rights reserved.