just for one week

hearty red lentil & preserved lemon soup

Have you ever had a song lyric stuck in your mind? It seems to happen to me all the time. Sometimes it’s great fun to have a favourite tune bouncing around, keeping me company. Then there are other times when I feel like my brain is playing nasty tricks. So where is she going with this? You well may ask.

Remember the David Bowie song ‘Heros’? The one with the chorus ‘we can be heros – just for one day’. Well, last week that was on high rotation in my internal jukebox but with a few variations to the original. In my world it went something like ‘We can be vegos – just for one week’.

You see, last week Glen and I decided to be vegetarians for seven days. The idea was born over a long boozy lunch in sunny Palm Cove a few weekends before. We were there to celebrate the 40th Birthday of our good mate Keir and had taken to the task of relaxing and enjoying the facilities of the tropical resort like ducks to water.

After a weekend of much decadence, especially in the food and wine department, we were both feeling the need for a little break from the booze. A mini detox, of sorts. At first I was thinking we should go all out and go vegan and alcohol free like I did last year. But then I remembered just how hard that had been and that there was a very good reason why I hadn’t had a detox week since then. So we came up with a better plan. Why not have a theme for each week with the first week being alcohol free? Done. And surprisingly easy compared with trying to be vegan at the same time.

With the boys from downstairs, our vegetarian neighbours, already invited for dinner during the second week, it seemed like the direction for that weeks theme was an easy choice. Things got off to a slightly rocky start when Glen went out to buy things for brunch on our first vegetarian day and came home with chorizo and ham instead of ricotta and basil. But a quick menu change to a parmesan and chive omelette overcame that hiccup.

I’ve detailed the blow-by-blow account of my week of being a vegetarian below but the star of the show was the red lentil and preserved lemon soup I pulled together Sunday afternoon. Thick and hearty with that lovely earthiness that lentil bring with them given a refreshing kick from the preserved lemon. It seriously is the goods and makes for a great weekday work lunch.

Overall it was fun putting on a vego hat for a week and seeing how it feels. Like being an actor trying on a different persona for a little while. But I think Glen and I were very happy to be heading back to our favourite butcher on Sunday. I can safely say that the boys at Hudson’s were happy to see us as always and even happier when we told them about the theme for this week. You guessed it ‘meat week’.

vegetarian week for jules & glen

sunday
brunch: open omelette with parmesan & chives
toast with Irish butter
dinner: red lentil & preserved lemon soup
a few squares of dark chocolate

monday
breakfast: muesli with yoghurt
lunch: red lentil & preserved lemon soup
dinner: roast pumpkin (squash) risotto with pinenuts & sage butter

tuesday
breakfast: muesli with yoghurt
lunch: red lentil & preserved lemon soup
dinner: Vietnamese in Marrickville

wednesday
breakfast: muesli with yoghurt
lunch: leftover pumpkin risotto
dinner: Lebanese in Surry Hills (go the hummous & felafel)

thursday
breakfast: muesli with yoghurt
lunch: pasta with broad beans and chilli oil
dinner: cheese on toast with green salad
vanilla icecream

friday
breakfast: muesli with yoghurt
lunch: leftover risotto with tabouleh
dinner: cheese & olives
roast pumpkin (squash) & parmesan tarts
warm salad of pearl barley, spinach & ricotta
rolled chocolate sponge with chestnut cream
(courtesy of this month’s Gourmet Traveller)

saturday
breakfast: toast with white peach & raspberry jam
lunch: roast veg toasted sandwich with rocket & gruyere
(courtesy of this month’s Gourmet Traveller)
dinner: warm pumpkin salad with chickpeas & tahini dressing
wilted baby spinach with pinenuts & preserved lemon
rolled chocolate sponge with chestnut cream
hearty red lentil & preserved lemon soup
serves 6

I can’t believe that it’s been three years since I first wrote about preserved lemons. For details on how to preserve your own and a few more recipe ideas click HERE (and please excuse the dodgy photo – very early days for me and my camera).

Don’t be put off by the preserved lemon. If you haven’t ever tried making it yourself this soup is the perfect excuse. You will have to wait a few weeks before your lemons are ready but trust me, the feeling of satisfaction you’ll have will be well worth it.

If I haven’t convinced you to preserve your own, there is always the commercially produced option – usually available in fancy delis. Or you could always substitute in the zest of three lemons and use a lot of salt to season. It won’t have the same tangy exotic flavour but it will be a lovely lentil soup none the less.

If you must feed a die hard carnivore you could always fry up a sliced chorizo or two in a separate pan and stir through at the end but this soup can stand on it’s own when it comes to heartiness and doesn’t really need any more beefing up.

3T olive oil
3 brown onions
5 cloves garlic,
2T grated ginger
1T cumin seeds, ground
1T fennel seeds
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1t chilli flakes, or to taste
2 carrots, finely diced
3 sticks celery, finely diced
1 desiree potato, scrubbed & finely diced
3 x 400g cans tomatoes
3C water
300g red lentils
4 quarters preserved lemon, rind only, finely chopped
natural yoghurt, to serve
coriander leaves, to serve

Heat oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add onion, cover and cook stirring occasionally until the onion is soft. Add garlic, ginger and spices and cook for a couple of minutes. Then pop in the remaining ingredients except the yoghurt and coriander and bring to a simmer.

Cook gently, uncovered for about an hour, stirring occasionally and adding more water if it starts to look too dry and thick. When the carrot and potato are tender and the lentils have broken down you’re good to go. Taste and season remembering that there will be a lot of salt from the preserved lemon.

If you prefer a smoother soup you could puree it a little with a stick blender but I like to keep it nice and rustic.

Serve hot with a dollup of yoghurt and a few sprigs of coriander.

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