Most Chicagoans know of this wonderful Persian restaurant called "Reza's". Russians looove this Middle-Eastern cuisine. Partially because of the influence of the Georgians and the Armenians. Besides, what can be bad about char grilled meat and fragrant basmati rice?
For as long as I can remember my family went to Reza's. I always had this gitty feeling when I knew we were going to there. I would day dream about it in school and look forward to it all day. The food was always great, inexpensive and filling. They have HUGE portions...HUGE! Mostly everyone at our table always left most of the meal on their plates...except my dad, my uncle and myself, we put away the entire meal! My mom warned me each time to stop, that I will feel sick ...but I never listened and every time I would slouch on the chair, slowly making my way under the table to take a much-needed nap, growning from my full tummy. My mom would say, "Why would you do that? Look at your stomach, look!! This is more food than you have eaten all month! You cannot do this to yourself." I would look up at her, with a miserable smile and say, "But once I start, I cannot stop. I have to eat it all. How would dad and my uncle look at me if I didn't eat it all?" My mom would throw her hands in the air and say that one day I would learn. I can still put away an entire plate of food today but I choose not to and instead take it home. To this day I still crave to go there and get excited about eating their food.
I have duplicated almost every recipe they have at the restaurant, except one. Their soup. It's this delicious lentil and tomato soup that I absolutely love. It's totally vegetarian and has a ton of flavor in it. It has that unique combination of eccentric spices known to the middle eastern world.
I made it yesterday in an attempt to continue my vegetarian style diet. (I say style, because I am eating meat, just not every day.) It was almost identical to the one in Reza's. My fiance' was very against tasting it because I told him that it was vegetarian. I put it out for him when I went upstairs to blog last night. I came down...the bowl was licked clean! "I liked, even better than Reza's!" He said. Ahhh music to my ears, my recipe is better than Reza's brilliant!
I based it off of a recipe I found on recipezaar.com, funny enough a woman was looking for the same soup recipe. The recipe definitely needed a bit of tweaking. I added a lot of my own spices that I know are traditionally used in Persian and middle eastern cuisine in general. It was filling and absolutely delicious! I placed a dollop of middle eastern yogurt on top and it finished it of nicely.
1 cup lentils, rinsed 7 cups vegetable stock (I used Trader Joes, which was very flavorful) 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 medium onions, chopped 4 garlic cloves, crushed 2 cups stewed tomatoes, crushed 2 teaspoons salt 1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1/4 teaspoon cayenne 2 tsp sumac 3 tsp 7-spice 1/4 cup brown basmati rice, uncooked juice of 1 lemon
*If you have never seen sumac, I recommend that you try using it in all your middle eastern recipes. It is regularly used in that region of the world. It has a tart flavor to it and was originally used in food before the Romans introduced lemons. It goes well with chicken, beef, hummus almost anything. In fact, you will usually see it sitting on tables next to the salt in pepper in most good middle eastern restaurants. 7-Spice is also very popular and frequently used. It's a spice blend with cumin, ground coriander, paprika, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamon. It really gives that middle eastern flare to the dish.*
1. Add lentils to stock and bring up to a boil. Cover and continue cooking on medium low for 25 minutes. 2. Sautee onions and garlic together and let them sweat. You do not want any color. 3. Add tomatoes, parsley and all seasoning and cook for 5 minutes. 4. Add onion mixture and rice to the lentils and stock. Turn down the heat and let it cook for about 25-30 minutes on medium heat, until the lentils and rice are tender. At this point, add lemon juice. 5. Pour into a bowl and add a dollop of middle eastern yogurt called "Labne".
*I think next time I do this dish I may do it a bit differently. It came out a bit chunky which is OK, but I am going to puree the tomatoes and onions next time and then add it to the soup. The color actually looks nicer that way and you get a more homogeneous consistency.*
Years ago, I followed my dreams and went to culinary school. I went to culinary school to continue the dream that my mother and I always shared: to open up a deli or cafe somewhere and call it our own. Whether that cafe will ever open is still up in the air...but my cooking and my love for food I owe to my mother...and in a way this blog is dedicated to her...I only hope that I can inspire other women with this blog the way my mother inspired me...With her love for food passed onto me, I quickly became a food snob after culinary school. Today, a house, a husband' (and his stomach),and an up and coming business keeps me busy enough without all my gourmet concoctions! But, no matter how busy I am, I still go to my kitchen and cook to retain my sanity. Prehaps this is a way I connect to my mother...but cooking is the only thing that truely soothes my soul. My recent transformation has led me to belive that sometimes you just have to Keep It Simple Stupid...and Cook!
I will not eat oysters. I want my food dead - not sick, not wounded - dead. ~Woody Allen
Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside. ~Mark Twain
Great food is like great sex. The more you have the more you want. ~Gael Greene
Tell me what you eat, I'll tell you who you are. ~Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
And, of course, the funniest food of all, kumquats. ~George Carlin
Avoid fruit and nuts. You are what you eat. ~Jim Davis
The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you're hungry again. ~George Miller
Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. ~Harriet van Horne
Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon. ~Doug Larson
I didn't fight my way to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian. ~Anonymous
But those aren't the flavors. That'd make too much sense. Apple and pear, according to Dr. Phil, are body types the bars are made for. Hey, I've got some advice. If you look like an apple or a pear, eat an apple or a pear! [On Dr. Phil's energy bars. ~Lewis Black