I rode across the Manhattan Bridge four times on Saturday. I’ve always confined my biking to Brooklyn, its less-trafficked bike lanes and provincial Prospect Park loop; in Manhattan, I’d usually rather be a straphanger or a pedestrian–but four years into riding here, I’m fully obsessed with my bike to the point where I can confront my fears of big city trucks and taxis and bike traffic. Also, my two Saturday missions were on the Lower East Side, a short sprint from where the Manhattan Bridge spits us two-wheelers out on Canal.
I’m now assured that riding across the Manhattan Bridge counts as a quintessential New York City experience as much as the walk across the the far more touristy (and prettier) Brooklyn Bridge. If you’ve ever sat on the Q train at sunset, you’ll know about the view. Biking brings an extra feeling of floatiness to “one of the greatest cheap visual feasts in America,” as well as the thigh burn that results from the slow climb, which makes you feel as though you’ve earned the view, and then Manhattan.
On Sunday, after all that exertion, I was hungry, even after brunch. I’ve heard this happens, that when you exercise a bunch you crave healthful meals, rather than any old junky calories, and really nourishing food did come out of my kitchen this weekend.
My Middle Eastern flavor journey fit in perfectly with these cravings. The food of Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and Iran contains richness from olive oil and nuts and rib-sticking bulk in the form of healthy lentils. I’ve already mentioned red lentils in my post about Smoky Red Lentil Burgers, and last night, we had Claudia Roden‘s Creamy Red Lentil Soup, no matter that it’s August. (Fall is coming.) The creaminess derives from the silky sautéed onions and the red lentils, which are cooked about thirty minutes past the point when you could technically eat them, until they’ve burst and disintegrated and begun to act as though they’ve been treated with an immersion blender. The non-necessity of the blender makes this incredibly easy to make.
The pita croutons are my cheesy addition. They deliver the cheesy crunch that even the best-ever soups tend to need.
This sponsored post is part of an ongoing collaboration with Sargento, called Flavor Journey. Throughout the year, with the support of Sargento, I’m exploring Middle Eastern cuisine–at home, in Brooklyn, at cooking classes, and wherever the flavors may take me. You can see the whole series here. Sponsored posts let me do some of my best work on this blog, and I only ever work with brands whose values and products mesh with the content I love to produce for you. Here’s my affiliate disclosure.
Creamy Red Lentil Soup with Cheesy Pita Croutons
Adapted from Claudia Roden
This soup is even better the day after it’s made. Thin it with extra water if it thickens overnight. Claudia Roden’s version has you caramelize an onion in a few tablespoons of oil while the soup cooks, and if you feel like using an extra pan, I highly recommend this addition. Scoop some onions on top of the soup when you garnish with the croutons.
For the soup:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
pinch red pepper flakes
1 3/4 cups red lentils
1 carrot, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
For the cheesy croutons:
2 pita breads (white or whole wheat), split open
2/3 cup shredded cheese (I used a mix of Pecorino Romano and Sargento Shredded Mozzarella)
About 1 tablespoon za’atar (make your own here)
Heat the oil and onion in a heavy stockpot over medium heat until onion is soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, and red pepper flakes and stir. Add the lentils and the carrot, then stir. Add 2 quarts (8 cups) of water. This will look like a ton! Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook uncovered until the lentils have disintegrated and the soup has a creamy texture, about 45 minutes. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, fresh pepper, and the juice of half the lemon. Taste, then add more salt if needed.
Meanwhile, turn on your broiler. Make the cheesy croutons: Split the pitas in half. Brush a baking sheet with olive oil. Drizzle each pita half with olive oil and sprinkle with za’atar. Broil until toasty, about 2 minutes. Remove from the oven, then distribute the grated cheese among the pitas and bake for 3 more minutes, watching carefully, until the cheese is melted and the pitas are crisp. Remove from the oven and cut into uneven wedges.
Serve the soup very hot, with lemon wedges and croutons.