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Lebanese Lentil Soup

by babyfish

The Detroit area is home to the largest Arabic population outside of the middle east, and, consequently, there is no shortage of great middle eastern restaurants. One of the best is called La Shish; this is my attempt to reproduce their soup.

The easiest place to find hulled Moong Dal beans is an Indian grocery store. You really do need this specific kind of beans; the soup will not come out right otherwise. Moong dal beans normally have a green skin, but you can buy them hulled, in which case they’ll be yellow. This is the kind you need for this recipe.

10 C. Water
3/4 large Carrot
3/4 medium Onion
2/4 Potato
1 tsp. Salt
3 Tbsp. finely chopped Parsley
2 C. hulled (yellow) Moong Dal Beans
6 cloves fresh Garlic
2 Tbsp. ground Cumin
1/2 C. Olive Oil
Juice of one or two Lemons, to taste

Pour the water into a large soup pot and set it over high heat to boil. Peel the potato and then grate the carrot and mince the onion and potato, all as finely as possible. Add them with the parsley to the boiling water, then reduce the heat to medium low. Add a teaspoon of salt to draw the juices out of the vegetables.

Sort through the beans to remove any small pebbles that may have made it through the sorter, then rinse them thoroughly in a strainer. When the potatoes, onions, and carrots are soft, transfer the beans to the pot with the garlic, cumin, and olive oil. When the water resumes boiling, reduce heat to as low as possible while still maintaining a boil, and cover the pot partially (don’t cover it all the way or the soup will boil over).

When the beans are fairly soft, remove the soup from the heat and whip them with a wire whisk until they have broken down a little more. Add more cumin, oil, or salt if desired. Serve with a slice of lemon to squeeze.

Potato Bread with Fresh Herbs

4 Potatoes
1 Package yeast
1/2 C. Vegetable Shortening
4 Tbsp. Molasses
1/4 to 1/2 C. finely chopped herbs (see below)
Approximately 6 C. Unbleached White Flour
Corn Meal
Sesame Seeds

Herbs: I use fresh marjoram, basil, rosemary, oregano, or, usually, a combination of two or more of these. For this recipe, I’d use about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of very finely chopped herbs. In a pinch, you could probably use dried herbs, but steer clear of dried rosemary for this recipe, as it will be very stiff.

Peel the potatoes, place them in a saucepan, cover with hot water, and bring to a boil. When they are quite soft (about 20 minutes), remove from the heat and strain them, saving the potato water. Take 1/2 C. of potato water, and after it has cooled enough that you can comfortably hold your finger in it, but still feels quite warm, add the yeast. In about 5 minutes, you should see the yeast turn over like a mushroom cloud. (Red Star yeast does this, but other brands sometimes do not.) While you’re waiting, mash the potatoes thoroughly.

When the yeast turns over (or after 10 or 15 minutes has elapsed, if the yeast you have isn’t very active), and the mashed potatoes and potato water have cooled to the point where you can comfortably hold your finger in them (this is very important!), combine 1-1/2 cups potato water, the mashed potatoes, and the shortening in a very large bowl. Stir until the shortening has melted, then add the molasses, herbs, and yeast mixture, and stir well.

Now add two cups of the flour and stir well with a wooden spoon. When you have a consistent mixture, add another two cups of flour and continue stirring. Be sure all of the flour is absorbed before adding more. Add more flour, a cup to half a cup at a time, until you have a dough that can be kneaded by hand, but is still somewhat sticky. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured countertop and knead it for about ten minutes, adding more flour to the countertop and your hands as necessary to keep it from sticking. Potato dough will be much softer than regular bread dough; don’t worry about this.

When you are done kneading, the dough is ready for its first rise. Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl (the dough will swell to around three times its current volume before you’re through), and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a towel. Place it in the rising cabinet for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, peel back the towel and the plastic wrap and punch down the dough with a floured fist. Recover the bowl and let the dough rise for another 45 minutes. Then punch the dough down again, recover it, and return to the rising cabinet for 10 minutes while you prepare the pans.

This bread is good in a loaf or a braid. For the former, you’ll need two large or three small loaf pans. For the latter, you need two cookie sheets. Oil or grease the pans, then sprinkle a little corn meal over them. When ten minutes are up, remove the dough from the bowl, onto a floured countertop. Use a very sharp knife to divide it into equal portions of the number of loaves you are making. For a braid, you’ll then need to split each portion into three. If you’re making regular loaves, roll up each portion, and then tuck the far ends under themselves and place them in the pan. It should fill the pan at least 3/4 of the way. Cut two lengthwise slits in the top of the bread, to allow it to expand more. For a braid, use your hands to roll each piece of dough into a long snake, 3/4″ to 1″ (about 2 cm) in diameter. Lay the snakes out side by side, and begin braiding from the middle of them. Then braid the other side when you are finished (this keeps you from stretching either side out too much). Press the ends together and transfer them to the prepared cookie sheets. Sprinkle the loaves with sesame seeds, cover with a towel, and put them back in the rising cabinet for another 30 minutes, with new hot water. Preheat the oven to 350° Farenheit (175° Celsius).

After the final rising, put the loaves in the oven. After 20 minutes, turn the heat down to 325 Farenheit (160° Celsius), and continue baking for another 25-30 minutes. The bread is finished when it makes a hollow sound when you snap your finger against the bottom of the loaf.

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