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Roving Omnivore

Passport & Plate - The Soup That Saved My Life

Greece | Saturday, 7 March 2015 | 5 photos

1 pound of dried green or brown lentils (about two cups) 10 cups water * 2 small onions, diced (about two cups) 3 medium carrots, diced (about 1 ½ cups) 3 stalks of celery, diced (about 1 ½ cups) 5 cloves of garlic, finely minced 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1 Tablespoon dried Greek Oregano
3 Bay leaves: whole 2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt (optional) Salt and pepper to taste


How to prepare this recipe
Place sorted dry lentils in a soup pot or Dutch Oven and add water or broth. Bring to boil, then allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, pour olive oil into a sautee pan and stir in onions, carrots and celery, cooking for 5 to 8 minutes at a medium high heat until the onions change color.
Add minced garlic and sautee for 2 minutes.
Using a spatula, add the cooked vegetables slowly one spoonful at a time to the cooking soup to avoid splattering.
Blend in the tomato paste until it melds into the broth.
Add the bay leaves, salt, oregano and rosemary.
Cover and cook for one hour on a low simmer, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent sticking.
HINT: If the soup looks too thick, add a little more water or broth. It will quickly absorb the flavor of the lentils.

* For a more flavorful soup, substitute equal amounts chicken or vegetable broth for the water.

To serve
Spoon hearty servings of the soup into bowls. Encourage your guests to lightly drizzle olive oil and red wine vinegar over the hot soup and crumble feta cheese and slices of roasted red pepper. They not only add new color and added texture, but elevate this humble soup and expand its flavor profile: the sweetness of the red pepper, accented by the bitterness of the vinegar and cool, creamy smoothness of the feta. Serve with crusty Greek-style bread, Kalamata olives and dry red wine. It is a meal that will nourish and satisfy and linger in your memory. Serves six lucky friends.


The story behind this recipe
I was a 19-year-old traveling Europe alone. I’d spent months traversing the continent, drinking in the history and culture and sampling local cuisine. After trains and buses, though, I ended up hitchhiking once my money ran out. In July 1972 I found myself stranded in mountainous northern Greece, far from any tourist destination, struggling to return to London and my flight home to Indiana. A truck driver had dropped me on a remote road. I’d had no problems finding rides before this. But now I was penniless and without food, far from any town village with no vehicles in sight. So I waited. At the end of my second rideless day I spotted a wiry old woman toting a bundle of sticks. She strode past me, smiled and kept walking, disappearing into the setting sun. The following evening the Stick Lady returned. She spoke in Greek and beckoned me to follow her to a small stone home a mile away. A hunched old man, her husband, Spiros, greeted us. After serving me water from his well, he directed me to a rough-hewn table inside set with straw mats atop an embroidered white linen cloth. The Stick Lady, Eleftheri, emerged from a fragrant kitchen with a large tureen of steaming soup. This rustic, traditional dish, a Greek Lentil Soup called Fakes, looked dark, rich and hearty with an intoxicating aroma. The couple drizzled red wine vinegar and olive oil before crumbling feta cheese and roast red pepper slices over the soup. Spiros’ leathery face lit up and he proclaimed the Fakes: “Deeleeshus!” I nodded, trying not to look too pitiful as I cleaned my bowl with her warm, crusty bread. I nearly inhaled my first two bowls, but slowly savored the third, relishing the herbs, legumes and vegetables that create this deceptively complex dish. I’d never been so hungry before, nor so lost or hopeless. Elefthiri’s soup saved my life. I never obtained her Fakes recipe. But I’ve prepared it often and hope, if they came to dinner, Spiros would pronounce it: “Deeleeshus!”

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