While this food shortage is making me more nervous by the day, there is one thing I do know. The people of my culture have been resilient throughout the ages despite war, famine, poverty, and forced expulsion. I credit one food for helping them get through all of these challenges,and that food is the lowly lentil.
Lentils have been a source of sustenance since the time of the pharaohs, and is one of the oldest domesticated crops. Archaeologists have found lentils on the Euphrates River as far back as 8000 BC, which were popular among the Egyptians and Romans. In sebsequent years, Arab populations worked magic with these legumes, transforming them into hearty main dishes like Mujadarra or creamy soups like Shorbat Adas or Adas Majroosh. These recipes are also in my cookbook and YouTube channel, as my mother’s family survived on these heirloom staple dishes during the numerous wars in Palestine.
But why are lentils such a lifesaver during difficult times? They are inexpensive compared to other foods and tend to stay that way. At the time of this writing I managed to grab a bag of lentils for $2.00. Try finding ANYTHING in the supermarket for $2.00 these days–you will spend more than that just purchasing a couple of apples!
Lentils are also durable and store well in the pantry for a long time. The price of lentils remains low because this agricultural crop is able to flourish despite drought, or other unfavorable weather conditions. Lentils, like other beans, are best stored in an airtight container in a cool place away from light. Oxygen and light will fade the color of the beans and increase the rancidity of the oils of the legume. While dried lentils should optimally be used within one year, many people have safely and successfully stored lentils for years.
As far as nutritional profile, lentils are higher in protein at 18 grams per serving, as well as high in fiber, iron, potassium, and folate. Brown lentils, which have an earthy flavor and hold their shape well in cooking, are the most common variety in the grocery store . Green lentils are similar, but have a peppery edge. While red lentils have half the fiber of brown ones, they help thicken soups to create a creamy consistency without the need for dairy.
As far as lentil preparation, make sure the lentils are not cracked, and check for any stones. Rinse the lentils as they do have a layer of dust that should be removed. You can soak the lentils before cooking as well for easier digestion. This Mediterranean Lentil Soup is versatile for summer as well as winter, and is a great way to use up summer tomatoes as well as any other vegetables you have on hand. The addition of herbs like thyme and parsley add a fresh kick, and you can serve this soup with crusty bread as a light meal during hot summer nights. To see my recent appearance on NBC where I shared my favorite lentil soup recipe, click on the video below:
Mediterranean Lentil Soup
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup onions
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
- 1 cup chopped carrots
- 5 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
- 1 cup dried lentils, rinsed and checked for any stones
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large potato, chopped
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 3 cups spinach
- 1 tsp dried basil, or 5 leaves finely sliced fresh basil
- 1 sprig fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Chopped parsley for garnish
- Optional to make soup thicker:
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp flour
Saute the onions in the olive oil until soft, then add the celery, garlic, and carrots. Continue to saute for about 3 more minutes. Add the chicken broth, lentils, bay leaves, salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes. Add the potato, the tomatoes, the thyme, basil and spinach. Boil for 20 minutes more. If you want to make the soup thicker, stir 1 tbsp olive oil with the 1 tbsp flour, stir into the soup, and simmer for 10 minutes more. Add the chopped parsley as a garnish before serving.