Red Lentil & Chard Soup w/Turkey & Sweetcorn Meatballs I was thrilled to receive Ottolenghi The Cookbook for Christmas (thanks Dave!). This book was published in Britain in 2008 by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (indeed, the chef duo that produced Plenty and Jerusalem), and won’t be available in the U.S. until September 2013. This was their first cookbook, celebrating their first food shop/patisserie/deli/ restaurant/bakery called Ottolenghi in Notting Hill. They now have three other take-away Ottolenghi shops in Kensington, Belgravia, and Islington (this one includes a proper restaurant), and a formal brasserie called Nopi in London’s West End. Lucky Brits! This cookbook is a bit playful, gearing itself toward the type of informal, savvy folks who take home treats such as these on the way home from work and who might also attempt to make them at home. Ottolenghi’s recipes are reliably delicious.

First, I made the warm and thick “Red Lentil & Chard Soup” (recipe below), because the red lentils, Swiss chard, and sourdough bread are so appealing to me right now. Perfumed with cumin and coriander, it’s a dreamy soup.

Red Lentil & Chard Soup
Ottolenghi The Cookbook
Serves 6

17.625 oz. split red lentils
10½ cups cold water
2 medium red onions
2 Tbsp. olive oil
7 oz. Swiss chard
1.75 oz. cilantro leaves
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. coriander seeds
3 garlic cloves, crushed
grated zest of ½ lemon
2 lemons, cut into wedges
salt and pepper

Wash the lentils in plenty of cold water. Place in a large saucepan with 10½ cups of water, bring to boil and simmer for 35 minutes or until soft. Skim off scum that rises to the surface during the cooking.

Using a slotted spoon, remove about half of the lentils from the cooking liquid and set aside in a bowl. Add a generous pinch of salt to the lentils and the water in the pan and liquidise using a stick blender or in a food processor.

Peel the red onions, halve and thinly slice them. Place a frying pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, onions and cook, stirring occasionally for 4-5 minutes until the onions soften and become translucent. meanwhile remove and discard the large stems from the Swiss chard. Wash and rinse the leaves thoroughly, then chop them roughly. Do the same for the cilantro, leaving a few while leaves for the garnish.

Mix the cooked onion, chard leaves and chopped cilantro into the lentil soup and season with cumin, cinnamon, and some salt and pepper to taste. Reheat the soup and simmer gently for 5 minutes.

In a mortar and pestle, or using the heel of a large knife, crush the garlic and coriander seeds together. Melt the butter gently in a small saucepan over medium heat, add the garlic and cilantro seeds and fry for 2 minutes, until the garlic starts to color. Stir this into the soup, remove the pot from the stove and cover with a lid. Leave the soup to infuse for 5 minutes before serving.

Serve garnished with lemon zest, cilantro leaves, and sourdough bread. Add some lemon wedges and squeeze into soup.

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Red lentils will always cook down into a mushy mass -- that’s what we like about them. Ottolenghi and Tamimi love their onions, and so do I. Two red onions are fried here, then added to the lentils. I included 1½ tsp. kosher salt and ½ tsp. black pepper when I added the ground cumin and cinnamon. I ground my coriander seeds in a spice grinder (rather than a mortar and pestle), and delighted in the magnificent floral scent. At the end, I added another 3½ tsp. kosher salt and ½ tsp. black pepper to the soup pot. Your bowl of soup needs a squirt of lemon. And the sourdough bread! What a dead-on pairing. The bread belongs with this soup.

Inspired, perhaps, by the informality of this cookbook, I went ahead and made the “Turkey & Sweetcorn Meatballs” (recipe below) to toss into my lentil soup. They were perfect: popular, tasty, addictive.

Turkey & Sweetcorn Meatballs
Ottolenghi The Cookbook
Makes 17 meatballs

3½ oz. frozen corn
3 slices of stale white bread, crusts removed
16 oz. ground turkey
1 free-range egg
4 scallions, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
2 ½ tsp ground cumin
1½ tsp. salt.
½ tsp. black pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
Sunflower oil, for frying

Place a heavy non-stick frying pan over a high heat and throw in the corn kernels. Toss them in the hot pan for 2-3 minutes, until lightly blackened. Remove and leave to cool.

Soak the bread in cold water for a minute, then squeeze well and crumble it into a large bowl. Add all the rest of the ingredients except the sunflower oil and mix well with your hands.

Pour a 1/8-inch-depth of sunflower oil into your heavy frying pan. Allow it to heat up well and then fry about a teaspoon of the mince mix in it. Remove, let cool a little and then taste. Adjust the amount of salt and pepper in the uncooked mixture to your liking.

With wet hands, shape the mince mix into balls, about the size of golf balls. Cook them in small batches in the hot oil, turning them around in the pan until they are golden brown all over. Transfer to an oven tray, place in the oven at 392 degrees F and cook for about 5 minutes. When you press one with your finger, the meat should bounce back. If unsure, break one open to check that it is cooked inside. Place the meatballs in the soup.

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Dry-frying the frozen corn was a clever way to “blacken” the kernels. This way, they popped with sweetness. The ground cumin, scallions, and ground turkey all contributed to the sweetness too. The recipe asks to soak, crumble, and add crustless white bread, but I successfully used whole-wheat slices with their crusts. I fried my 17 meatballs, then baked them, then put them in the lentil soup. Our meal was a celebration.

PRICES:
Red Lentils (17.625 oz.) = $1.67
Red Onions (2) = .90¢
Swiss Chard (7 oz.) = $1.87
Ground Turkey (16 oz.) = $9.42

PREP TIMES: spend less than 90 minutes on the soup and less than 45 minutes on the meatballs
TASTES:
meatballs sweetened with corn, cumin, scallions, and turkey add a fun dimension to thick lentil soup that’s charged by cumin, coriander, and lemon

I will return to more recipes from Ottolenghi The Cookbook soon. Meanwhile, I want to cook the “Milk-Braised Pork Chops with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy,” from the November 2012 issue of Food & Wine, along with the “Creamed Spinach Casserole,” from the December 2012 issue of Eating Well. Sounds like a comforting meal. Come back to my site soon, to witness these comforts!