And so, December rolls around again like a tinsel-bedecked juggernaut. The big kid in me always loves this month, with the promise of Christmas (and the prospect of a week devoted to immense gluttony) just around the corner. The part of me that appreciates not working to walk in the middle of a howling hailstone storm, however, isn’t as keen.
I always think that Bootle looks especially bleak in the Winter months, when not even the sight of the Seaforth docks, with its grain silos wrapped in fairy lights and cheap tinsel, can alleviate some of the gloom. I walked home last night in the rain; the slick wet pavements lit up by the sodium glare of streetlights the same dirty colour as the snood I’d bundled into, and decided that I needed three things to get me through a cold Monday night:
2) A hug from Mr. Cay
3) Soup. And plenty of it
One of my favourite soups to make when the weather take a turn for the worse is this Red Lentil & Lemon soup. I first read it about it on Orangette, who describes it (quite aptly in my opinion) as being ‘a quiet soup’. Indeed, there is something reassuringly simple and comforting about this combination of lentils, cumin and lemon juice – although it doesn’t smack you in the face with spice, there is a certain ‘something’ about it which makes it so much more than just another lentil soup. The dab of tomato paste also lends it a certain umami zing, which is just the thing to put some life back into cold bones.
Because I like a bit of crunch with my soup, I also whipped up some Harissa Croutons from the leftovers of a sourdough loaf I’d baked on Sunday. Whilst I am a firm believer in the benefits of making your own Harissa (Eat Like a Girl has an excellent recipe on her blog if you feel like whipping up a batch sometime soon), I am also terribly lazy. So, I just used the stuff from a jar which I’d recently bought from Steenberg’s Organics.
Warm soup, spicy croutons, hot tea and Masterchef on the telly. Winter may have hit Bootle with a vengeance, but so long as I have all of these things at my disposal, life will always be good.
RED LENTIL & LEMON SOUP WITH HARISSA CROUTONS (Serves four)
You will need:
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 large onions, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tsp ground cumin (I like to use whole cumin seeds, which are toasted in a pan and then ground in a pestle and mortar)
- 100g red lentils
- 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
- ½ tsp salt, or more to taste
- A few grinds of black pepper
- Pinch of red chilli flakes
- 2 pints of chicken or vegetable stock (I used chicken)
- Juice of a lemon to taste
- A good handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped
For the croutons
- 1 tbsp harissa
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 100g sourdough bread, cubed
- Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2. Combine the harissa and olive oil and season. Toss with the bread to coat. Bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp, shaking occasionally.
- In a large pot, warm the oil over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Add the onions and garlic and sweat for around 4 minutes until golden.
- Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne, and cook for another two minutes. Add the stock, the lentils, and the carrots. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Continue to cook for around half an hour until the lentils and carrots are soft. Taste, and add more salt if necessary.
- Once cooked, puree around half of the soup using a hand blender (or a food processor if you’re lucky enough to own one) . It should still be slightly chunky. Reheat if necessary, then stir in the lemon juice and fresh coriander. Serve the soup drizzled with good olive oil and topped with the harissa croutons.