A Market Walk and Red Lentil Soup with Minted Eggplant

It’s shopping day. Come along with me to the Brunswick Market, not many Melburnians know about it. The uninviting blue concrete facade gives no hint of the treasure hidden within. I’ll lead the way, just follow me down through the windowless cavern, past the Turkish Kebab place on the left ( try to resist their big bowl of red lentil soup or the eggy Shanklish ) and the Iraqi Barber on the right, the one favoured by Mr T for $15 haircuts. In the centre of the hall is an open sided cafe, whose owner set up about 18 months ago. She is now doing well. Her gozleme are as soft as fresh lasagne, stuffed with intense green spinach, and receives my ‘Best Gozleme in Melbourne’ award. We’ll grab one on the way out. She makes other savoury pastries, including potato and onion Borek and Simit, as well cakes filled with almond meal and nuts. There are many other specialty stalls here: a shoe shop and repair business run by a Greek man, a mobile phone fixit guy, run by a Chinese man, a clothing alteration store, a Turkish CD shop, just in case you fancy a bit of belly dancing on the way through, and a clothing store selling nazar boncuğu, those lucky blue eye amulets, hijabs, colourful scarves and outrageous silver embossed leggings.

Shoe repairs, a skill worth preserving.

Here we are at the food section. In the centre is a large Turkish deli, specialising in all sorts of yoghurt, brined cheeses, grains, pulses and condiments such as Pekmez and Biber Salçası. Further along is the Vietnamese fish shop. They also manage supplies for hotels and restaurants so you can order anything you fancy. The fish here is sparkling fresh and they know the source of all species on offer. Ask the lovely woman from Hanoi to shuck six Tasmanian oysters for you then devour them on the spot. Over from the Vietnamese fish shop is the Italian butcher, with his sign, Vendiamo Capretti ( we sell young goat). His pork sausages, full of fennel, chilli and spice, are the best in Melbourne according to my carnivore sons.

Vendiamo Capretti. Baby goats for sale in Italian, Greek and English.

Until recently, there was a Halal butcher shop and a free range chicken shop but both have recently closed. A sign of things to come? Finally we get to Russell’s fruit shop, owned by Turks but staffed by Nepalese and Indians. It’s the busy end of the market where you can find the things that never turn up in supermarkets: knobbly yellow quinces, tables full of cheap pomegranates, ready to split and reveal their bijoux, piles of red peppers, shiny and irregularly shaped, curly cucumbers, every kind of bean- Roman, Snake, Borlotti, lime coloured Turkish snake peppers grown in Mildura, rows of eggplants, long, short, miniature and striped. It’s the antithesis of a modern supermarket.

The Brunswick Market. Every kind of bean.

Part of this walk involves chatting. While buying red lentils at the Turkish deli, I’ve nodded politely as two ladies gave me their different versions of the best way to make Mercimek Köftesi, or red lentil kofte. I once went halves in a kilo of filleted Western Australian sardines at the fish shop. An Egyptian woman told me in detail how she would cook her half. People love to talk about food here. You will also be recognised and remembered. And the hipsters of Brunswick? They mostly avoid the place. I wonder why?

Red Lentil Soup with Minted Eggplant is based on a recipe by Leanne Kitchen. The original recipe ( see below) makes a truck load. I halved the quantities and still had enough for 6 bowls. I also lessened the salt, added 2 tablespoons of Biber Salçası ( Justin Bieber in a jar) and kept the amount of garlic. The original is pale in colour. With the added Biber paste, the soup looks more vivid. Eggplants are now in season, and red lentils are one of my favourite budget foods. Eat well for less.

Red Lentil soup with minted eggplant.

Ingredients

  • 150 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 625 g red lentils
  • 2.5 litres chicken or light vegetable stock
  • 60 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 500 g eggplant ( about 1 large) cut into 1 cm pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 teaspoons dried mint
  • 2/½ teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped, to serve.

Method

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 6-7 minutes or until softened but not brown. Add the lentils and stock, then bring to a simmer, skimming the surface to remove any impurities. Add the Biber Salçası if using. Reduce heat to low, partially cover the pan, and simmer for 40-50 minutes. Add the lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Meanwhile sprinkle the salt over the chopped eggplant in a colander and set aside for 20 minutes. Rinse the eggplant, then drain and pat dry. Heat the remaining oil in a large, heavy based frying pan over medium high heat. Ass the eggplant and cook for 6 minutes turning often, until golden and tender. Ass the garlic and cook for 2 minutes then add the dried mint and paprika and cook for another minute or until fragrant.

To serve, divide the soup among the bowls and spoon over the eggplant mixture and scatter with the fresh mint.

Recipe by Leanne Kitchen. Turkey. Recipes and tales from the road. Murdoch Books Pty Ltd 2011.

Turkish red lentil soup with minted eggplant.

Brunswick Market, 655 Sydney Road, Brunswick. Let’s hope this market survives as the sweep of gentrification and apartment wonderland takes over the inner city.

32 thoughts on “A Market Walk and Red Lentil Soup with Minted Eggplant”

  1. I have lived a short way from Brunswick for many years, and didn’t know the market exists. Is it in the shops up near Bell St? The fish shop especially appeals, as there isn’t a good one near me, with the exception of the Vic Market. The soup recipe sounds good, and I love your bowl.

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    1. This market is between Stewart Street and Albion Street, right in the heart of Brunswick on the hilly bit. ( ie not in Coburg). I have been going there for around 20 years. Thanks Anne, the soup is a tasty one. The bowl came from a potter up in Mission Beach, FNQ.

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      1. Thans for the directions, Francesca, I will investigate. I saw on the news that there are plans to build tall towers on the Preston Market site. Fortunately there are people who are prepared to protest against the development.

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        1. Preston Market is also one of my favourites. I hope it doesn’t change too much. The development has been on the books for ages. Anywhere along that train line is being slowly transformed into apartment land. the height issues, with regard to Melbourne’s new planning laws, have a more liberal interpretation along major roads and train lines. It’s a worthy struggle but one that might not succeed. The market will be retained I think, at ground level, according to the older plans I saw. Must catch up with the more recent news on that.

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  2. Yep me too, it’s the first I have heard of it. But now you’ve told everyone you will have to share it. Loved your description walking in. I love the bowl too. The recipe sounds good and I might have to try that one, another to add to the list of what I haven’t tried yet. You have a lovely typo – Ass the onion. Add it, of course, it gave me a giggle. Good soup weather. Buon Appetito. Louise

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  3. Great post Francesca. Love the market. You capture its essence perfectly. Have you popped next door to the wonderful Royal Nut Company – for the freshest, tastiest nuts, legumes, spices and confectionary?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hahaha. Yes, me also. I have yet to get out of there carrying less than two bags of goodies. Once you try their nuts, you just can’t buy from anywhere else.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The high rise stuff is all over Brunswick now too, though thankfully kept close to either the railway lines or the major thoroughfares. Neighbourhood residential zones are still kept at two stories. We do spend a lot of time at VCAT protecting these zones. Some of the development is innovative and sympathetic, though most of the new residents have little to do with old ethnic markets. Just not cool enough for them! Or maybe they don’t cook. I can’t shop in the major two supermarkets- just too limiting ( and pricey).

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  5. You have no idea just how much I miss Aussie markets. We have nothing like them here in Quebec City. I spend hours going from place to place to find ingredients and except for farmers’ markets in summer, abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and produce is largely non-existent. However my wonderful daughter in Montreal always manages to take me to out of the way markets there from time to time.
    I still think Adelaide’s central market is the most exciting place though, just sayin’! Thanks for this post, it made my day.

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    1. I’ve never been to Adelaide’s Central Market. I must put that on my list. I wouldn’t mind a little drive westwards. Sad that you can’t get good ethnic or fresh markets in Quebec…

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    1. It’s not like a big open market, like Vic or South Melbourne. Just a grungy old concrete building with these fab ethnic shops inside and one large fruiterer. You get to buy some interesting ingredients but also to travel vicariously.

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  6. If only that bothersome time space thingie wasn’t so effective I would be a regular at Brunswick Market. I love not only the food culture but the community, and the multi-culture. The hipsters don’t know what they’re missing.
    Justin Bieber in a bottle… hmmmm 🤔 nope 😄

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    1. I know, Justin Bieber isn’t exactly my cup of tea either but this is how I remember the name of that Turkish condiment. I have been forced to know a few of his tunes along the way, as each grandchild goes through a Bieber period in their musical development. It only lasts a year with each.
      The hipsters of Brunswick are a little mono cultured, perhaps WASPish, in their approach to life. It must look cool to be good. This may be a generalisation coming from an older perspective. Leaving culture and religion aside, some of the Muslim chaps who frequent the market look not unlike hipsters.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This was such a fun place to shop with you–but then this is the kind of market I love. Shame for the hipsters. ‘Guess you are way too cool for them, Francesca.

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  8. What a beautifully written travel post for those of us who are far, far away. I admire your skill at bringing the market to life, as well as your ability to use the produce.

    best…. mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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