Moroccan Lentil Soup

As the days gradually grow shorter and evening temperatures begin to dip, nothing beats a satisfying hearty soup. This week’s recipe takes a basic lentil soup and enhances the flavor by adding Moroccan herbs and spices.

One of the first crops domesticated in the Middle East, lentils rank as one of the most nutritious foods available in the human diet. Like many legumes, they are a good protein source and are rich in folate, potassium, iron, B vitamins and dietary fiber.

Because they are flat and relatively thin, lentils soften quickly and do not require pre-soaking overnight before they are cooked, unlike other dried beans. Although hearty, lentils do not have an especially strong flavor, making them a perfect ingredient to absorb the spices in this recipe.

And it is the spices that truly define this dish. When combined, they are a form of basic Ras el hanoot, a popular blend of herbs and spices widely used throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The name means “head of the shop” in Arabic and refers to a combination of the best spices a seller has to offer. Although there is no rigid list of spices that make up the blend, it usually contains about a dozen popular spices. In some areas, however, it can include over one hundred ingredients. Ras el hanoot is often confused with garam masala, which is a blend of Indian spices.

Complement this rich soup with a side salad and sliced whole-wheat pita or other whole-grain bread. It is a simple and delicious way to introduce lentils into your diet if you are not used to cooking with dried beans. Best of all, any unused soup can be refrigerated or frozen, making it a great leftover.

Moroccan Lentil Soup - Makes 10 servings.

3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cups water
3 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
1 cup red lentils
1 (15 oz.) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 oz.) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 oz.) can unsalted diced tomatoes
3/4 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup diced carrots
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In large pot, sauté garlic, onions and ginger in olive oil for about 5 minutes.

Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil for 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Cover and simmer 30-40 minutes or until lentils are soft.

Puree approximately 1/3 of the soup. Return the pureed soup to the pot, stir, reheat and serve.

Per serving: 180 calories, 2.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 29 g carbohydrate, 11 g protein, 7 g dietary fiber, 250 mg sodium.

The Author:

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $86 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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