Greek lentil soup

Lentil soup was one of the first Greek recipes that I learned to make after I met my husband.  After we were first married, we were living in a tiny cottage on a tiny Greek island, on the beach.  I know, right?  But aside from the amazing view and the breeze off the sea and the fact that there were only about six or seven other people living in the entire village, making it kind of ideal for newlyweds, the kitchen was, well, not.

The refrigerator came up to my upper thigh, and had no freezer at all.  On top of the fridge was a glorified toaster oven with two burners on top of it.  Above that was an exhaust fan that, due to the height of the fridge + oven, meant that you couldn’t stir anything while it was on the stove, because there was no space between the top of the pot and the exhaust fan.

There was also no counter space, at all.  There was a sink, but nothing else.  So I would balance my cutting board over the sink for counter space.  And when I wanted to stir a pot, I would take it down, put it in the sink, stir it, and put it back.

It was under these “romantic” conditions that I learned to make Greek lentil soup.  It is the perfect recipe for those looking to be more frugal in the kitchen, since it uses ingredients that are basically the cheapest of the cheap:  dried lentils, onion, carrots, plain tomato sauce.

In our little island cottage, I had one pot, and it was a conventional cooking pot.  You can certainly make lentil soup in a conventional pot, although I now only ever use a pressure cooker and would highly recommend that anyone trying to be frugal or who likes beans, lentils, and peas own a pressure cooker.  They save a great deal of money and an unreal amount of time.

Lentil soup is a great fall and winter soup, when carrots are plentiful and we all need something a little warm and spicy.

Lentils are a handy ingredient:  cheap, easy to store, long shelf-life, don’t need to be soaked before use, good for you.  Combined with something high in vitamin C, lentils have usable iron.  If you don’t like carrots, you could put some orange peel in this soup for vitamin C.

The soup is easy as can be:  saute some onions and garlic in a little olive oil in the bottom of the pressure cooker.  Throw in some carrots, lentils, and tomato sauce.

Add enough water to cover everything, plus another two cups (the more water, the more soup, but you don’t want to fill beyond the half-way point of your pressure cooker).

I call this Greek lentil soup, but the spices I use are a bit more Morrocan.  True Greek lentil soup would leave out all of these spices except the bay leaf.  You can experiment to see what you like.  The authentic Greek version is too bland for my taste.  I use a bay leaf, cumin, Spanish smoked paprika, hot paprika, and cinnamon.  Never put salt in a pressure cooker.

Stir and cover; bring the cooker up to pressure.  A pressure cooker works by increasing the boiling point of water.  In a conventional pot, water boils at 100 C (212 F) at sea level; in a pressure cooker, it boils at 121 C (250 F).  The higher temperature cooks food much faster.

About 15 minutes later…

After opening it up, add the salt, stir, and ladle into soup bowls.

I like to put a little bit of hot garlic olive oil in lentil soup.  I make my own, and I keep it in the fridge, where it partly solidifies – thus its murky appearance.  I do this to reduce the risk of botulism, a small but present risk in any garlic oil.

A tablespoon of olive oil and a few of strained plain Greek yogurt, a bit of bread, and we’re done!

Greek Lentil Soup

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed
6 medium carrots, sliced into rounds
300g lentils, picked over for small stones
250g plain tomato sauce
1 bay leaf
2 tsp cumin, ground
1.5 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp hot garlic olive oil (for serving)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt (for serving)

1. Heat olive oil in the bottom of a stainless steel pressure cooker over medium heat.  Saute onion and garlic for two minutes.  Add carrots, lentils, tomato sauce, and 4 cups water.  Stir; add all spices; stir again.

2.  Bring pressure cooker up to pressure and reduce heat to low.  Cook 15 minutes.  When pressure is released, open and add salt.  Stir and ladle into bowls.

3.  Drizzle 1 tbsp of garlic olive oil over each portion, and top with 2 tbsp Greek yogurt.

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