Shorbet Adas: A humble lentil soup from a conflict world

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As many of the ancient civilizations existed along major rivers such as the Nile, Tigris, Indus, Euphrates and Yellow River, commerce was often carried through the ports situated along the rivers. Gradually, as modes of transportation became more advanced, riverine trade was supplemented by sea and land routes and international commerce took a grander shape through the Silk Route. Gold, silver, copper, silk, bronze, gemstones, incense, ivory and wild beasts were heavily traded between countries, often through middlemen who made a good profit by linking the worlds of demand and supply while keeping the source a closely guarded secret.

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The Eastern Mediterranean coastal region which is modern day Palestine-Gaza, Lebanon and Northwest Syria was called Canaan (the Land of Purple) and later, Phoenicia. Before the Western world started producing silk, it was highly expensive and mainly imported from China, Asia Minor, Persia and Syria-Palestine regions. Among all the places producing silk, Phoenicians were known for their luxury goods and specifically for highly refined silk products. The port of Sidon in Phoenicia made a unique fabric by combining silk fibers with the local linen and then dyeing the final product with rare Tyrian purple dye, extracted from the shells of a tiny mollusk. On the other hand, weavers in Alexandria, another port in the same area, embellished their silk with golden embroidery. Apart from silk, Phoenicians were also known for their high quality cedar wood, used for building ships and for beautiful woodcarving structures, glazed earthenware, painted pottery, invaluable glasswork and metalwork. Beyond their highly valuable export goods, their geographical location also made countries in the Eastern Mediterranean pivotal points in the maritime trade. Palestine with two major ports, Alexandria and Antioch was very strategically located in between Syria and Egypt and served as a major connection between the Syria-Palestine coastal regions, Asia Minor and Rome. Palestinians were known as the ‘middlemen of the ancient world’; both for their commercial success, as well as for the cultural beliefs, myths and knowledge they spread to the countries that with whom they traded.

http://biologicalexceptions.blogspot.com/2013/08/life-is-elemental.html

It took 10,000 molluscs to make a gram of dye. The dye was more expensive than gold for its equivalent weight. http://biologicalexceptions.blogspot.com/2013/08/life-is-elemental.html

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What happened to the land of promise? What went so wrong for them, for them to have reached the point that they are at now? Did someone rip them off, or is it part of the natural evolution of nations? Whenever I think about this region, my mind wanders to the thought of caravans unloading valuable merchandise, silk being embroidered with golden threads by skilled hands, stained beautifully purple with Tyrian dye, and the air filled with a mixed aroma of spices and incense. A murmur of people talking in myriad different tongues and in general carrying on with life in a world where there were no ceasefires, no Iron Domes, no Qassam rockets, no bombing of historical monuments and no innocent kids dying. I refuse to see what that land has turned into now, I refuse to see more ruined buildings, roads stained red from blood and corpses lying around because there is no room left in the morgues, and the chaos from losing hope and life like no one cares. I refuse to accept it but who really cares. I guess no one. We are after all pretty disposable among a crowd of 7 billion similar animals.

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Shorabet adas is a common soup eaten in that part of the world. Countries in the region name it differently but it pretty much boils down to the basic lentil soup with some vegetables thrown in. I really hope they find peace and commonality just like this soup. Everything thrown in one pot with a beautiful result shared by everyone.

If you really liked this article, you might also want to read this one.

Recipe:

Ingredients:

Red lentils/masoor daal: 1 cup
Olive oil: 4 tbsp.
Yellow onion: ¾ cup to one cup finely chopped
Garlic: 3-4 fat cloves of garlic finely chopped or mashed with the back of a heavy knife/spoon
Celery stalk: ½ cup-3/4 cup
Carrots: ¾ cup
Butternut squash: ¾ cup cubed/chopped
Chicken stock/vegetable stock: 7-8 cups

Turmeric: 1 tsp.

Cumin: couple tea spoons, lightly roasted and ground to a fine powder

Cilantro/parsley (traditional is parsley): a handful chopped fine

Aleppo pepper/chili flakes: to taste

Few wedges of lemon
Salt to taste

  • Wash the lentils, drain and set aside.
  • Heat up two tablespoon of olive oil and add the garlic. Let the garlic sizzle very gently in the oil to flavor the oil. Do not burn the garlic.
  • Add the onions and sauté them until translucent.
  • Add the chopped carrots, squash and celery. Sauté until fragrant.
  • Add the lentils and then sauté them well while mixing everything.
  • Add the turmeric, salt and the chicken stock (I usually warm up the stock in the microwave). Mix everything well.
  • Bring the whole soup to boil and then reduce the flame to medium.
  • Once the lentils and the vegetables are cooked, turn the heat off.
  • Let the soup cool down a bit and then blend everything to a smooth puree.
  • Bring the whole thing back on the stove top and adjust the consistency. If it’s too thick, add more stock/water. Reduce it if it’s too thin. Adjust seasoning too.
  • Serve in individual bowls, drizzled with olive oil, pepper flakes, parsley/cilantro, cumin powder and lemon wedges.
  • The best way to eat it is with toasted pita or any Arabic bread.

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Kumro ar kNathal dana diye motor daal/Split pea lentil soup with pumpkin and jackfruit seeds and how the food culture is changing

DSC_0844In the Bengali culture, there are foods which we consider as daily staples and others which we eat only on festive occasions. Whereas the culture of daily food is retaining its purity, the ceremonial food is gradually changing its course toward more of a ‘hotchpotch’ cuisine, as likely to be from France as it is from Bengal. Even at my own wedding reception, the menu included items as disconnected as Italian salad and the very traditional East Bengali chitol machher muithya/chitol fish balls in spicy gravy. Being a small-town girl and having no idea whatsoever what to make of the mixed spread, I asked my husband to enlighten me on the menu. Somewhat flippantly, he answered ‘this is what is called a cosmopolitan menu’.

DSC_0850As a kid and even during my growing up years, there were foods which we considered ‘biye baarir khabar’ (wedding ceremony food). Although they were considered ceremonial food, they were often jazzed-up versions of everyday dishes, although on the spicier and richer end of the spectrum. On a ceremonial menu, there was and will never be a simple mushurir daal (red lentil soup), thore (banana blossom curry), beguner bhorta (roasted eggplant) or uchche chachchori (bitter gourd curry). Instead there will be machher matha diye muger daal (lentils cooked with fish head), alu fulkopir daalna (cauliflower and potato curry), machher kalia (spicy fish curry) and shukto (bitter toned mixed vegetable curry) (although most of these are now unfashionable and confined to the lunch menu, which these days is the neglected stepchild of the Bengali wedding feast, although this was not always so). I don’t know how some foods acquired celebrity status and made red-carpet entries to the dinner menu while some others failed to leave the everyday mundane status. I suspect it has little to do with subtlety of taste and relates more to the price of the ingredients (expensive ingredients = successful host, taste be damned). The daal I am sending to My Legume Love Affair (MLLA62) hosted by Siri is among the ones which never made it to the A-list but nevertheless it’s one of my favorites (even my Dear Husband likes it a lot). It’s versatile, very nutritious, tasty and healthy. The vegetables added to the daal depend on the availability and could be whatever you have in your pantry. An added bonus is that can be eaten with both ruti/chapatti/bread or rice.

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Recipe:

Ingredients:

Split pea lentils/motor daal: 1 cup

Water: 3-4 cups

Pumpkin: 8-10 one inch cubes (more or less as you prefer)

Jackfruit seeds (optional): around ten (I partially sun dried the seeds and then removed the outer shell and halved them right before I added them to the daal)

Ginger paste: 1 tbsp. or a little more.

Turmeric: ½ tsp.

Pnach phoron/Bengali five spice mix (equal portion of fenugreek, mustard, fennel, cumin and nijella seeds): 1 tsp.

Dry red chilis: 2 nos.

Mustard oil or ghee: 1 tbsp.

Green chili: 2-3 nos.

Sugar: ½ tsp.

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Split pea lentils

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Jackfruit seeds with the shells on.

  • Wash the lentils with several changes of water and then soak them for at least 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Start boiling the water and once the water starts boiling, add in the lentils and turmeric powder.
  • Once it’s half way cooked, mash the lentils with a spoon, whisk or a daal ghutni/daaler knata.
  • Add the pumpkins and the jackfruit seeds. Add slit green chili, salt and sugar.
  • Let it boil until the daal is completely cooked. It should not be mushy. Add the ginger paste, boil for a minute or so and then turn off the flame. Check for seasoning.
  • In a separate pot/pan/ladle heat up the mustard oil/ghee and let it become hot.
  • Add the pnach phoron and the dry red chilis. Let the spice sizzle and the red chilis get a darker shade (around one minute).
  • Add the seasoning/tadka/phoron to the cooked daal and immediately cover it with a lid.
  • Let the flavor infuse for several minutes and then stir to mix the seasoning and the daal. Serve hot.

PS: I have made this daal with other vegetables too. It tastes great with ridge gourd/jhinge, sweet potato/mishit alu, begun/eggplant, kumro/pumpkin, lau/kumro doga (young shoots of either pumpkin or bottle gourd plant, not the leaves) all together.

The thickness should be of medium consistency, neither too thick nor too watery.

Another motor daal recipe will be found here.

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