In my cooking class this past week, we focused on braising—making braised lamb shanks, braised leeks, a French lentil salad, escarole salad, and a chocolate mousse. I had a little bit of braised lamb left over from the class, so I decided to make this soup from one of my favorite cookbooks, Najmieh Batmanglij’s Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies. In the book, she explains that the name of the book comes from the story that long ago in Iran, people would leave a soup pot by the side of the road. Passersby would throw in a coin or two, and the coins would be used to buy the ingredients for the soup. She explains that today people continue the tradition by asking friends to each bring over a few ingredients for the soup. They prepare the soup together and then sit down to share the meal.
I have been making this soup for about 10 years—I remember preparing it during the brutal winters in my first Chicago apartment, a tiny studio with a miraculously decent-sized kitchen and (inexplicably) a small walk-in closet that I still miss. I’ve always prepared it myself rather than asking friends to bring ingredients, but I’d like to try that sometime. Speaking of asking friends to bring something, we had the most fun wine-tasting get-together this weekend. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Andrew and I have been slowly making our way through The Great Courses’ “The Everyday Guide to Wine,” which we’re watching FOR FREE on Kanopy, through the New York Public Library. This time we covered the three noble grape varieties of white wine: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay, comparing two different wines in each category. I’ve gotten this far in life not knowing much more about wine than if something tastes good to me or not, so learning about it is completely fascinating. (Total tangent, oops!)
Anyway, whether you cook/eat this soup on your own or with a group of friends, it’s delicious—hope you enjoy it!
Beggar’s Soup (Persian Rice, Lentil, & Herb Soup)
- 3 onions, thinly sliced
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 lb. stewing beef, lamb, or veal; OR about 1 lb leftover meat (the meat is totally optional here!)
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup dried red kidney beans, soaked for several hours or overnight, drained
- 1/2 cup dried lentils
- 1/4 cup dried chickpeas, soaked for several hours or overnight, drained
- 1/4 cup dried mung beans (whole or split)
- 10-12 cups water
- 2 cups chopped fresh parsley or 1/2 cup dried
- 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro or 1/4 cup dried
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill or 1 Tbsp dried
- 4 cups fresh spinach, washed and chopped, or 2 cups frozen spinach, chopped
- 1 cup chopped scallions or chives
- 1/2 cup rice
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 2 Tbsp oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp dried mint
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- Labne, Greek yogurt, or sour cream (my addition, optional)
- In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the three onions and five cloves of garlic, and saute, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften and turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Push them to the side of the pot, and add the meat (if using), browning on all sides (a few minutes per side). Add the turmeric, salt, pepper, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, and mung beans, and stir to combine. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for one hour.
- Stir in the parsley, cilantro, dill, spinach, and scallions and cook 40 minutes longer, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the rice, and cook for an additional 55 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the soup is getting too thick you can add more water.
- Just before you are ready to serve, make the garnish. Heat the two tablespoons oil over medium high heat in a skillet and add the onion. Saute the onion, stirring frequently, until it is golden brown and beginning to crisp. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic begins to brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the mint and turmeric; season lightly with salt. Serve the soup topped with the garnish, and, if you like, a dollop of labne, Greek yogurt, or sour cream. Enjoy!