Turkish Inspired Red Lentil Soup - Mercimek Çorbasi

By Fongolicious - June 14, 2014

After wondering the streets of Istanbul, we discovered a local restaurant near our hotel, in the old town of Sultanahmet. I don't even remember the name of the place. Upon discovery, we frequented the restaurant daily and even multiple times a day. It was a little family run place with brick design linoleum lining their walls and a simple menu. This cheap and cheerful place was always busy! 

So what's was the big deal? Their red lentil soup - AKA Mercimek Çorbasi. Oh my! So damn tasty! We tried a couple of other places' Mercimek Çorbasi, but it just didn't compare.

This is THE SOUP!
After return from our big trip, I was determined to replicate this soup. I didn't want to wait for another trip to Istanbul to get this soup. So I scoured the web and various family members' recipe books. I had a relatively long shortlist of recipes and I studied each one carefully. Their methods, their ingredients, their quantities. I then started experimenting. I've been through about 7 pots of soup now... and I think this is as close I can get it... so hence I've titled this "Turkish Inspired" as I don't think it's 100%, but hey, it's pretty close and it is definitely damn tasty. So to settle my cravings, and enjoy a warm hearty soup for the winter - here is my version of Mercimek Çorbasi. This should serve about 6 entree size bowls, 4 main size dishes or 2 super hungry hippos!

***Please note these herbs and spices amounts are approximate. I'll leave it to your best judgement to figure out the right ratios.

1 cup red split lentils, well washed (soaked for a few hours or overnight)
1/4 to 1/3 cup of Bulgur (either fine or coarse)
1 big knob of butter (this makes it, so don't skimp or use margarine), if butter isn't your thing, just leave it out.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 brown onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large carrot, finely diced or grated
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Approximately 4 to 6 cups of stock (vegetable or chicken)
hot water to top up
salt/pepper to taste
Marash pepper to serve (optional)
Lemon to serve (optional)

The list of herbs and spices***
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon sumak
2 teaspoons dried parsley
3 to 4 medium size bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon paprika powder
1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried mint leaves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1. Wash the lentil and bulgur well  in a medium pot. Cover with about an inch of water and over medium heat bring to a boil and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside, it should look pale and mushy.

2. To a large pot over medium heat, melt butter and add oil. When butter has melted, add onions. Saute until translucent.

3. Add garlic and the herbs and spices list above. Stir to mix.  Add carrot. Stir to mix. Allow carrots to cook slightly - about 1 to 2 minutes. Add lentil and Bulgur mixture. Stir to mix. Add stock. Stir to mix. Add tomato paste. Stir to mix. Turn heat up to bring to a boil and then turn it down to low to simmer.

4. Stir every 10 minutes. Simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes. The longer the better. Top up with water if it's starting to get a bit dry and thick. Taste to season. If you're in a rush, the carrots should be soft, take out the bay leaves and using a stick blender, blend until smooth (optional).

5. Serve with some fresh bread, lemon and some Marash pepper^. 

^What is Marash Pepper: This is a red pepper/capsicum that is grown in Turkey with a complex flavour and moderate heat. It comes as flakes and maybe difficult to find. You can substitute with Aleppo Pepper which is similar or any moderate heat pepper flakes.

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  1. a wonderful soup !
    - very nutritious, inspiring and apetizing
    Thank yhou Kim!

  2. I'm going to make this for my Wednesday lunch buddy. Hoping this impresses as she's a terrific cook and then I'll reveal it's a Fongolicious recipe!