“I had the pleasure of taking a cooking class in Seattle yesterday where I enjoyed a demonstration of 5 new delicious vegetarian dishes. Our instructor, Chef Sureyya Gokeri is from Turkey and boy did I love her style! She was ambitious, joyful and honest and made everyone feel like they could cook, even if they burned toast. What I loved the most about the class was her many references back to the fact that you never have to follow the instructions exact. She would often throw in a little of this or extra of that just because she wanted to…. or because “following instructions isn’t in her Turkish blood”. It reminded me that to be a great chef, you sometimes just need to listen to your instinct. It also reinforced that cooking is all about self expression and it doesn’t have to be perfect according to what someone else feels “perfect” is. This really struck a cord with me because lately, its been obvious that some of my meat-loving extended family really would prefer I cook dishes other than just vegetarian meals. I have doubted my cooking skills and my resolve to only prepare what I desire to make… meatless, wholesome and delicious meals. But this class reminded me to be true to myself. My determination to eat vegetarian and only prepare vegetarian dishes for others is only stronger now. It’s my way of showing what I believe in and how much I love to cook. It’s an act of my love and self expression and others should be honored to take part in it, just as I am honored when someone takes the time to cook for me.
The class was called 30 Minute Vegetarian Mediterranean. All the dishes were from the Mediterranean part of the Middle East and Africa. This soup was my absolute favorite. It is warm, soothing and very versatile for a range of tastes. The Chermoula Sauce is a fun, spicy addition that can take this dish into a whole new world. I highly recommend you make it. If you have leftovers, you can add to other soups, rice or pasta dishes and it does wonders for presentation with its bright green spike of color. You can add extra jalapenos if you like it really spicy or as Chef Sureyya reminded us, make it more spicy if you have 8 guests and only enough soup for 6 people!”
-Adapted from Chef Sureyya Gokeri
For the Soup
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup chopped celery root (about 1/2 celery root
- 1 cup fennel bulb, chopped (about 1/2 fennel bulb)
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 – 14 oz can diced tomatoes with their juices
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup dried red lentils
- 2 tbsp cilantro leaves, chopped
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1/2 – 1 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 1/2 cup cooked garbanzo beans (or 1 can drained and rinsed)
- 1 1/2 cup cooked red pinto beans (or 1 can drained and rinsed)
- cilantro for garnish (optional)
- chermoula sauce (optional – recipe below)
- pita chips for garnish (optional)
For the Charmoula Sauce
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 4-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1-2 jalapeno peppers (or more if you’re adventurous!)
- zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 bunch cilantro
- salt and pepper to taste
For the Soup
- Heat oil in 4 quart dutch oven over medium heat. Add celery root, fennel and ginger. Cook for 5 minutes then add the onion. Stir from time to time and saute for another 7-10 minutes or until veggies are mostly tender and onion is translucent.
- Add the ground ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and garlic. Let them infuse their flavor and become fragrant for about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes in their juices, broth, lentils, bay leaves, sugar, salt, pepper and both beans. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer, cover and simmer for about 25-30 minutes checking and stirring frequently (if you are not using a heavy pot, watch the bottom as lentils can burn easily). When the red lentils have mostly disintegrated and veggies are all tender remove from heat (See my footnotes for varied cooking times and blending alternatives). Taste for salt and pepper and add as needed.
- Garnish with extra cilantro, chermoula sauce and broken pita chips.
- In a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat, place cumin seeds and dry roast. Watch so they do not burn and stir often. Cooking time will depend on your pan and heat but when they are nice and fragrant and lightly toasted, remove from heat and let cool. Place in a mortar and pestle and lightly grind.
- In a food processor, place cumin seeds, olive oil, garlic, jalapeno, zest and juice of lemon. Process until combined and pureed. Add the cilantro and process adding a bit more olive oil if needed. Taste for salt and add as needed. You can add more jalapeno or lemon if you like.
If you want less texture or a more pureed consistency, you can stick an immersion blender into the soup when it is finished and blend about half of it, leaving some texture and bean whole. Also, if you want a more soupy finish, feel free to add more broth. I tend to add an extra cup or so.
I use a quality, heavy bottomed French oven for my soups and I found that I like to let this one simmer for longer than necessary. I turn it on low and let it cook for 1 1/2 hours or so. The soup pureed into the consistency you see in the photos here. You don’t have to do it, but you can’t overcook this soup. The longer it simmers, the more delicious it gets.
I often throw in a little extra cinnamon and a dash more of turmeric. Be careful though! It can get out of hand really quickly!
My favorite quote from Chef Sureyya was: “If you have 8 guests but you only made enough soup for 6, what do you do? Answer: You make your soup VERY spicy!” And yes, this charmoula can really spice it up. Personally, I am torn because this soup is SO delicious on its own (especially the next day when the flavors have really melded). However, the charmoula is a fun addition and really adds flavor and spice to the dish.
Chermoula is a common sauce or dip used in many parts of the Mediterranean part of the Middle East. It’s a great addition to soups, rice, pasta and other vegetarian dishes. Feel free to make extra as it should store in the refrigerator for at least 2-3 days safely.