I first tried this nourishing soup a few years ago in Brunswick, near Melbourne. A young Turkish woman opened a small lunchtime cafe in the middle of an empty space in the Brunswick Market. She cooked her grandmother’s food from memory; it was cheap, sustaining and delicious. Her little restaurant didn’t survive, given its location inside a dingy arcade. Every now and then I see her around the streets of Brunswick and I feel like running up to tell her how much I loved her soup. She served it in big deep bowls with a small pourer of white vinegar and a separate little saucer of dried chilli flakes on the side, along with fluffy Turkish pide, toasted in a flat sandwich maker. I have been making versions of this soup ever since then, trying to replicate her flavours and texture. It is so cheap and nourishing, you could live on it. The key to the ‘bridal’ quality of this soup is the butter. You could ‘veganise’ the recipe, but it wouldn’t taste as good.
I am indebted to Patricia Solley’s Soupsong for this close version to the real thing, to which I have made slight adjustments.
Turkish Red Lentil Bride soup – Ezo Gelin Çorbasi
- 4 Tablespoons butter
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 cup red lentils, washed and picked over
- 1/2 cup fine bulgur wheat
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste, or Biber Salcasi ( red pepper paste)
- 8 cups vegetable stock, or water and 2 stock cubes ( use chicken stock if you prefer)
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or dried red chilli flakes
- 1 Tablespoon dried mint leaves, crumbled
- Traditional Garnish: lemon slices, or vinegar and chilli flakes, mint. Inauthentic garnish, yoghurt, mint leaves and chilli flakes.
Heat the butter in a large saucepan and saute the onions over low heat until they are golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in the paprika, then the lentils and bulgur to coat them in the butter. Add the tomato paste or red pepper paste ( or Biber Salcasi), the stock and hot chilli, then bring to a boil. Reduce to very low simmer and cook until soft and creamy, for about an hour. ( You may need a simmer mat for this and check that it doesn’t stick). When ready to serve, tear the fresh mint into the soup or crumble in the dried mint. Stir, remove from heat for 10 minutes, covered, then ladle the soup into large serving bowls, serving with lemon wedges and extra mint on the side. Great with warm or toasted Turkish Pide. It’s a meal!
“The origin of this rich Turkish soup is attributed to an astonishingly beautiful girl born in 1909 in the village of Dokuzyol, located on ancient caravan routes in the Barak plain. Ezo had red cheeks and black hair and was adored by camel riders who stopped by her house for water. Her story ends badly, though–her first marriage to a villager was unhappy and she was permitted to forsake him on grounds of maltreatment. Her second marriage took her to Syria and a mother-in-law who couldn’t be pleased…and for whom, it is said, she haplessly created this soup. Ezo died of tuberculosis in Syria in 1952, but in the interim had become a legend in her native land in both folksong and film. Her name lives on in this very popular, stick-to-the-ribs soup–which is now traditionally fed to new brides, right before their wedding, to sustain them for what lies ahead.”
Patricia Solley, An Exultation of Soups.