I’ve kind of fallen for caraway seeds, a flavour I thoroughly detested as a child. I remember awaking on the weekend and heading down to the kitchen to make the favoured breakfast du jour – jam on toast – and reaching for a couple of slices of fresh crusty bread. Pop them in the toaster. Spread with butter. Top with jam. Take a bite… Hang on… Eww! I’ll never forget that first taste of caraway. The crust of the bread was sprinkled with them, and I’d covered it in strawberry jam. How awful. I couldn’t understand why anyone would ever actively choose a bread with such an intensely flavoured seed penetrating it’s fresh flavour! Oh how things change.
These days, one of my most craved snacks is cheese on caraway toast. I think cheddar cheese and caraway seeds are a match made in heaven. I love caraway-marinated feta too, thanks to an Ottolenghi recipe that introduced me to the combo.
This soup is also a little bit inspired by my favourite Mr Ottolenghi. He has a recipe for a soup in his book Jerusalem that makes use of the softened, smokey flesh that results from burning Aubergines.
Taking his lead, I planned a soup based on this smokey aubergine flesh, plus the flesh of some charred red peppers. The flavourings are lead by caraway, but also feature a subtle yet complex mix of fennel, cinnamon, chilli and smoked paprika. A favourite spice mix of mine. The soup is already rich and full-bodied, but I added extra red lentils for added protein and to increase the quantity of soup yielded. Those lentils sure are frugal thickeners!
This soup will serve four generously, and has a delicious smokey flavour. A squeeze of lemon and the welcome addition of fresh herbs lift the dish right at the end. And, with the extra drizzle of toasted caraway seeds and olive oil, this soup is an absolute delight to eat.
I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I did!
PS – I’ve just joined Instagram. Slowly getting my head around it, but finding out why it’s so damn addictive! Please follow me @becky_limeandbarley!
You will need:
For the soup:
2 medium Aubergines
2 large red peppers
2 tspn caraway seeds, freshly ground
1 tspn fennel seeds, freshly ground
1/2 tspn cinnamon
1 tspn smoked paprika
2 tspn chilli flakes
3 small white onions, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, crushed
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbspn tomato purée
1 tbspn sugar
250g red lentils
900ml chicken or veg stock
Salt and pepper, to taste
A little oil, to fry
2 tspn caraway seeds, toasted and mixed with 2 tbspn olive oil
Handful of fresh herbs (I’d recommend chives, parsley, thyme or oregano)
Squeeze of lemon
1 – Start by preheating your overhead grill to around 180 degrees; pop the peppers whole under the grill and leave to char, turning occasionally
2 – Once the peppers are charred all over and softened, remove from the grill and leave until cool enough to handle before peeling and removing the stem/seeds
3 – Next it’s the aubergine’s turn; put 2 stove top gas burners on to a medium heat and place the Aubergines directly over the flame, resting them on top of the burner
4 – Turn the Aubergines frequently using metal tongs to ensure they blacken and burn all over; once softened and charred set aside and peel once cool enough to handle
5 – Pop the aubergine flesh into a colander and leave to drain for at least 30 minutes
6 – Next start the soup base; heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onion
7 – Cook the onion over a medium heat until softened, then stir in the garlic followed by the spices
8 – Allow the spices to cook for a couple of minutes then stir in the tomato paste; cook for a further 2 minutes and then add the reserved aubergine and pepper flesh
9 – At this stage, stir in the chopped tomatoes and season to taste with the salt, sugar and pepper; blend this mix using a stick blender
10 – Once smooth, tip both the lentils and stock into the pan and bring to a fast simmer before reducing the temperature right down, placing a lid over the pan and leaving to cook for around 20-30 minutes, until the lentils are cooked but still have their form and slight bite
11 – Check the seasoning of the soup before serving hot with the added garnishes as desired