I arrived at Zee’s home in early January, eager to begin my Armenian Home Cooking Apprenticeship, but quickly deflated when she met me at the door nursing a cold. “Come in honey,” she said. “I am sorry to keep you waiting, but I am not feeling good, so I am making myself a lentil soup first. Do you mind waiting?”
I immediately perked up at the mention of a lentil soup, but I had no intention of waiting on the sidelines while she prepared it. I perched myself in her kitchen, and there my training began.
Looking back, it’s quite fitting that we started with lentil soup because it’s what appealed to me most as a young child. I used to love going to my Aunt Mary and Uncle Jack’s Armenian restaurant, The Peach Tree, because they always served a lentil soup made with carrots, tomatoes, and a rich broth. Zee’s version is more complex, with layers of mint and hot pepper flavor. Because the cooking steps overlap, this soup comes together quickly, despite the fairly long list of ingredients.
And, might I add…it’s totally worth it!
- 1.5 cups Brown Lentils
- 2 Tbsp Vegetable oil, divided (One Tbsp to sauté vegetables and one for mint/garlic mixture)
- 2 Tbsp clarified butter, divided (One Tbsp to sauté vegetables and one for mint/garlic mixture)
- 1 medium-sized onion
- 2 stalks Celery
- 1 large Carrot
- 1 Anaheim pepper (You can substitute 1 bell pepper +1/4 jalapeno if you can't find - or don't like - Anaheim)
- 1 cube Bouillon
- 1/4 cup Pasta stars (You can use Orzo instead, but stars are cuter!)
- 1 Tbsp Dried Mint
- 5-6 cloves Garlic, minced
- Lemon juice
- Salt to taste
- 1 Tbsp Tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp hot pepper paste
- Clean the lentils: Put them in a bowl, fill the bowl with water, agitate the lentils, and the pour out the excess water. You will see the dirty water with little lentil parts rise to top and exit the bowl, little by little. Continue rinsing the lentils until the water is clear.
- Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a stockpot or soup pot. Add the lentils and maintain a rolling boil for 15 minutes (for al dente lentils, which is how I like them) or 20 minutes for well-done lentils.
- Meanwhile, quarter the vegetables and pulse them in a Cuisinart until they are finely chopped. Extract the vegetables from the Cuisinart and press them through a sieve to drain the excess liquid.
- Melt half the oil and butter over medium heat and sauté the vegetables in a medium sauté pan.
- After the lentils have cooked, add the vegetables to the soup, stir, and let the soup simmer while you prepare the minty garlic mixture.
- In a small sauté pan, melt the remaining oil and butter; add the minced garlic and mint, and cook just until the garlic becomes fragrant, stirring frequently.
- Add the minty garlic mixture to the soup along with a bouillon cube, stirring frequently until the bouillon is fully dissolved.
- Add the stars and cook for a few more minutes.
- Add the tomato and pepper paste, stir until dissolved.
- Sample the soup, add salt to taste... and Enjoy!