Is anyone else very excited that Masterchef is starting up again tonight? It’s definitely one of my guilty pleasures…I love watching along and thinking at each stage what I would do if I were in the Masterchef kitchen (probably panic blindly, but maybe also come up with an interesting way to cook mackerel for the invention test?). There are the epic cooking disasters (chocolate fondant anyone?), Greg’s bad jokes and the way he pronounces chorizo, and then occasionally a contestant who really stands out from the crowd.
One of my all-time favorites was Emma Spitzer, a runner-up a few years ago whose Middle-Eastern inspired food left a lasting impression. Emma recently published her first cookbook, Fress: Bold, Fresh Flavours from a Jewish Kitchen
I’ve been enjoying cooking my way through this book, but the one recipe I keep coming back to is “Debbie’s Cherry Tomato, Red Lentil and Chickpea Soup” (the recipe originates with Emma’s sister Debbie). I love coming home to this soup after a wintery walk on Hampstead Heath, but it also makes a great starter. I’ve made a few changes to the original recipe – my soup is thicker and spicier, which is really just personal preference.
Red Lentil Soup (slightly adapted from Fress)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
250 g dried red lentils, rinsed
2 x 400g tins of cherry tomatoes, with the juices
1 litre chicken stock (or vegetable stock for vegetarians)
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons ras-el-hanout
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
the juice of 1 lemon
a pinch of sumac
optional: greek yogurt/creme fraiche/soured cream to serve
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, then add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Cook gently for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until vegetables are soft. Add the lentils and continue stirring for a few more minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes and stock, and bring to the boil. Add the bay leaves, ras-el-hanot, chilli flakes and season well. Cover the pot, and simmer for 45 minutes.
When the soup is done, blend to your desired consistency using an immersion blender (I like mine a bit chunky). Add the chickpeas and heat the soup until the chickpeas have warmed through. Add the lemon juice and mix well. Check the seasoning, then serve. Add a sprinkle of sumac to each serving, and bring a bowl of yogurt/creme fraiche/soured cream to the table.