This is a traditional lentil soup from Damascus, made with extra refinement as befitting a dish coming from the Syrian capital, former capital of the Umayyad Caliphate.
It is a delicious soup and combines some sweet/sour flavors. It can be served at room temperature or warm with garnishes such as fresh cilantro, pomegranate arils, fried pita croutons and caramelized onions.
It is called harak esba3o in Arabic Syrian dialect which literally translates into “he burned his finger”, presumably describing someone who burned his finger when he dipped it into the soup while it was still boiling hot.
The soup is vegan and some of its ingredients include tamarind juice (for sourness), pomegranate molasses (for fruitiness), garlic, cilantro and caramelized onions (for sweetness) as flavorings. It uses brown lentils and handmade pasta, aka reshta. My grandmother used to handmade her pasta, called reshta, but in her later years opted for boxed pasta. Today, I am using boxed organic whole-wheat spaghetti, mainly to save a bit of time.
What can be prepared ahead?
- The cilantro pesto can be cooked and stored in the freezer several weeks ahead.
- The pita croutons (for garnish) can be fried (or baked, but frying tastes better!) a few days ahead and stored.
- The pomegranate can be seeded a couple days ahead and the arils kept in the fridge.
- The caramelized onions can be panfried a few days ahead as well and kept in the fridge.
Damascus Lentil SoupJoumana Accad Mediterranean, Middle Eastern February 23, 2022 Main Dish, Soups, Vegan, vegan, Lentil soup, syrian food,
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 1 hour
1 cup lentils (can use brown or green lentils)
1 1/2 cup dry boxed pasta small size (I used boxed organic whole wheat spaghetti cut into 2 inch pieces and boiled previously until al dente or slightly undercooked)
3 or 4 large yellow onions, half of them chopped and the others sliced into rings
olive oil, as needed
Spices: salt, pepper, to taste (reduce the salt if using some to make the garlic paste)
1 pomegranate, seeded
1 pkg tamarind or 1 jar tamarind pulp to extract 1 cup juice (see Note)
1/3 cup pomegranate molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar or piloncillo juice or grape molasses (as needed)
2 bunches cilantro, stems discarded OR 3 Tablespoons of cilantro pesto
1 head garlic, peeled and mashed with salt till pasty OR replace with the cilantro pesto (see Note)
1 or more cup pita croutons baked or fried until a light brown in color. (see Note)
- In a soup pot set over medium heat, panfry the sliced onions in a little olive oil until they caramelize, adding some sugar or molasses to help the process. Transfer the onions to a plate to be used as garnish and panfry the chopped onions in the same pot, using some sugar or piloncillo juice as well if desired.
- Add the lentils and about 4 cups of water and bring to a simmer.
- In another pot, boil about 4 cups of water with a dash of salt and cook the pasta halfway, then drain. Add to the lentil pot once the lentils have cooked at least 1/2 the way (about 20 minutes) and add the tamarind juice. Simmer 5 minutes and add the pomegranate molasses. Add the cilantro pesto, and simmer a few minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Serve the lentil soup warm or lukewarm with fresh cilantro, pomegranate arils, fried pita croutons and caramelized onions.
To make the cilantro pesto, check this post.
For this recipe, I recommend using a lot of garlic and cilantro, so about 10 cloves of garlic and a full head of cilantro chopped and slightly fried (a few seconds only) in olive oil
The tamarind comes usually in packages of 14 ounces packed tamarind, including the seeds. It can also be found in a jar. The idea is to soak it in plenty of water (a few hours or overnight) and strain it, and collect about a cup (more to taste) for the soup. The remainder can be stored in a container in the fridge for a very long time.
The pita croutons can be prepared ahead and stored in the fridge. Dry one or more pita breads (best ones are the extra thin ones) in the oven on a cookie sheet. The oven should be set at no more than 300F. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Cool and break into small croutons. Fry them in oil or spray oil on them or just use them baked. They taste best once they reach a light brown color.
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