Farmers' markets encourage us to eat seasonally and locally. For some ingredients, like powdered sumac, local means Southern Italy and the Middle East. Unlike others who, centuries ago, sailed half way around the world and back returning with a few bags of black pepper or nutmeg three years later, I found powdered sumac at a Middle Eastern deli in Berkeley in about 10 minutes.
It brings a lemony or slight vinegar taste to the soup when sprinkled on top just before serving. Swiss chard, onions, carrots, and maybe celery can be found at your farmers' market. I made this twice in the last week to make sure the incredible flavor was real and not just imagined.
Being a selective omnivore, I used this soup as an opportunity to sample grass fed Oregon Country ground beef recommended to me by a colleague at the hospital. The meatballs were delicious. While the soup can stand alone without the meatballs, they sure were tasty. Doctors often describe things compared to the size and shape of food: "goose egg" lump on the head or "pea-sized" nodule in the skin. Make the meatballs small apricot- or kiwi-sized.
Researching sumac led to a whole new world of flavors to try. We'll see where it leads.
- 8 cups stock (I used 4 cups vegetable and 4 cups chicken stock)
- 2 cups (1 lb) lentils
- 1 onion, diced (try wearing swim goggles when dicing onions to avoid tearing — it looks funny but works really well)
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 lb chard, chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Optional meatballs
- Powdered sumac — also optional
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- 1 onion, diced
- 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
- 1 cup soft bread crumbs
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
In a large soup pot, heat some of the olive oil and sauté the onion, carrot and celery for about five minutes. Stir in the cumin and allspice. Add the stock. Bring to a boil. Add the lentils. Simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes or until the lentils are almost soft. Meanwhile, sauté the chard in a little olive oil until just wilted. Add to the soup and simmer a few minutes. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Adjust the seasoning to taste. If you are using the meatballs, add them in the last 10 minutes of cooking time. Serve in warmed bowls and sprinkle liberally with sumac powder. Pita toasts make a good accompaniment.
To make the meatballs, preheat the oven to 400°. In a large bowl, mix the ground beef with the other ingredients. By hand is easiest and actually kind of fun. Form kiwi sized meatballs. Bake them for ten minutes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or the reusable Silpat® if you have one. Let the meatballs rest on a paper towel after cooking. The paper towel absorbs excess fat.