A Taste of Palestine: Menus & Memories, by Aziz Shihabi (1927–2007), features recipes that the author learned from his mother Khadra, who lived to the age of 104 in a Palestinian village to the north of Ramallah. The recipes presented below are for lentil soup, which is one of the main dishes served at Ramadan iftar, the meal that is taken at sunset after a day of fasting. This traditional dish has survived the Nakba and has been cooked in a variety of ways by generations of Palestinian women. We suggest that you take these recipes as an inspiration for your own creativity.
Shorobat Adas (lentil soup)
•4 tbs butter (or olive oil)
•1 large onion, finely chopped
•1 carrot, chopped (optional)ii
•1 stalk celery with leaves, chopped
•1½ cups lentils
•7½ cups water or meat stock
•Juice of 1 lemon
•Salt and pepper to taste
•1 tsp ground cumin (optional)
•Garlic-flavored croutons (optional)
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and cook the onion, celery, and carrot enough to soften them. Add the lentils and water or stock, bringing it to a boil, and skim if necessary. Simmer gently, covered, until the lentils are very soft. This will take 1 to 1½ hours, depending on the age of the lentils and whether they’ve been presoaked. It should take only about 20 minutes in a pressure cooker.
When the lentils are cooked, season the soup with salt and pepper, and if you’d like, add a little lemon juice and cumin. Simmer for a few minutes longer. Rub the soup through a sieve, put it in an electric blender, or squash with a potato masher to make a smooth puree. Return the soup to the saucepan and bring to a boil again; add a little water if a lighter soup is desired, or simmer it a little longer to make a thicker soup.
Serve with small croutons of bread fried in oil to which a clove or two of crushed garlic has been added, just until they begin to turn golden brown. Garlic is not always used, but it enhances the taste of the lentil cream.
(Red, yellow, green, or brown lentils can be used. Small yellow or red lentils will disintegrate, brown ones will not. Although, as with split peas, soaking is often recommended for brown lentils, this is not really necessary.)
Spinach and Lentil Soup
•1 cup large brown lentils
•7½ cups water or stock
(meat or vegetable)
•1 lb. fresh spinach
or ½ lb. frozen leaf spinach
•1 large onion, finely chopped
•1 tbs tomato paste (optional)
•3 tbs oil
•Pinch of cayenne pepper
Put the dry or soaked lentils into a large saucepan. (Soaking the lentils is not necessary, but it reduces the cooking time.) Cover them with about 7½ cups of water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 45 to 90 minutes, according to their quality and size, and whether they’ve been presoaked.
Meanwhile, wash fresh spinach carefully and drain well, or defrost frozen spinach in a colander. Cut into pieces or ribbons. Fry the chopped onion to a russet color in the oil. Add the prepared spinach and sauté over very low heat. It will release a considerable amount of juice. Let it stew in this liquor, covered, for a few minutes, then pour it into the pan with the cooked lentils. Stir in the tomato paste (if it’s to be used), season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper, and simmer until the flavors and colors have blended. Add a little more water if the soup is too thick.
i Cited here with the kind permission of the author’s wife Miriam Shihab and his daughter Naomi Shihab Nye.
ii Note from the editor: You can add other vegetables, such as squash or sweet potatoes, which go well with red lentils, or zucchini and potatoes, which go well with green or brown lentils. Top with finely chopped parsley or cilantro.