Winter can be hard. But if you’ve grown up in a country village as I have, you come to understand winter as down time after the headiness of summer. That’s all it is, really — getting cosy around an open fire, or rugging up and huddling into ourselves, and the food we cook is all about keeping alight the hearth within us.
I love winter food — slow roasts, meaty casseroles, and, of course, opening a jar of last season’s preserves that has been patiently sitting in my larder for months.
But for me at this time of year nothing beats a soup. A winter favourite of mine is the popular Easter stew Kibet el rahib, or Monks’ soup, and even though it doesn’t contain any dairy or meats products, the lovely thing is that it’s amazingly hearty. And like any good soup, it’ll keep for a few days when refrigerated.
1 ½ cups brown lentils, washed and drained
3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ cup lemon juice or 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup fine burghul, washed and drained
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped mint
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
½ cup plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
To make the dumplings, mix together all the ingredients. Gradually add ¼ cup water until you achieve a dough-like consistency. Form ½ teaspoon dough into a little round dumpling. Repeat with the remaining mixture and set aside.
Place the lentils in a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. When the water starts to boil, add 1 cup cold water, then cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes (adding cold water prevents the lentils from splitting). Carefully add the dumplings, then stir in the garlic, lemon juice or pomegranate molasses, salt and oil. Cover and cook over medium heat for a further 30 minutes. Serve hot.
And here’s a bonus …
Another traditional favourite that’ll help you get through winter is Kafta soup. Like most Lebanese soups, it’s quick and easy to make and yet it’s an incredibly flavoursome meal all the same.
The first time I saw it made was in 1963 when I returned to Lebanon after I had migrated to Australia eight years earlier. I had not seen my parents in that whole time and when I went back home to visit it was still winter. One day my father was feeling poorly from the cold and so my mother got to work making a soup with ingredients that any Lebanese home would have on hand. Less than an hour later she had created some magic. I still remember the moment when she handed my father a bowl of hot Kafta soup and said, “Here, have a ladleful of love. You’ll feel better.”
250g lean mince lamb
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp salt
1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
2 litres water
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
¼ cup long-grain rice (optional), washed and drained
extra salt and allspice, to taste
Place the lamb mince in a bowl, add salt and allspice and knead the ingredients until well combined. Take about a teaspoon of the lamb mince and roll in the palms of your hands to form balls, approximately the size of a marble. It’s a good idea to have a dish of warm water nearby to dip your fingers in every so often because that will prevent the mince from sticking to your hands. After you have rolled a ball, place on a plate large enough to hold between 35 and 40 kafta balls. Set aside.
Take a heavy-based pot, preferably non-stick, add the olive oil and onion and sauté over medium heat for approximately 6-7 minutes, or until the onion is golden brown.
Carefully place the kafta balls into the pot and cook for approximately 7-8 minutes, stir gently or occasionally shake the pot so that the balls don’t break and will be evenly browned. Add parsley and continue cooking just to release the flavour, no more than 10 seconds.
Pour in the water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer for 15 minutes. Adjust the seasoning with extra salt and allspice but remember that the kafta balls have been already seasoned. Add rice if using and cook for 5-8 minutes, or until rice has cooked through. Serve hot.
And, as my mother would have said, I hope you enjoy these ladlefuls of love.