The extension of my residence permit this past summer was supposed to be a rubber stamp affair involving an internet form and a few documents to be sent by post. A system error, five months and four visits to the immigration authorities later I finally got everything sorted this morning. Perhaps I should be a little annoyed at this unexpected extra hurdle. In fact, I’m impressed they’re coping at all. Until recently a country with little immigration, Turkey has almost over night become the largest recipient of refugees in the world – a result of Turkey’s welcoming policy towards Syrians fleeing civil war (a sharp contrast to many other countries, including my native Norway).
With papers in hand, the walk back home finally gave me an opportunity to see Çarşamba Pazarı, one of Istanbul’s largest and most well-known weekly markets. Çarşamba is in fact just a short walk up the hill from my house and is known as Istanbul’s perhaps most conservative neighbourhoods. But people here also care about their food. In the early morning, at least, the produce on offer was as beautiful as it was bountiful. And the prices were pretty much the same as my weekly local market – among the lowest in Istanbul.
In fact, the prices were not the only thing that were the same. There were familiar faces, too. Many of the stall owners set up shop at a different weekly market every day. My tomato & cucumber guys, potato & onion guys and the pumpkin guy were all there. As, I’m sure, were many others who either hadn’t yet set up (I arrived very early) or just happened to be in a different part of this enormous market (I only visited a small portion). Many of them were curious to see me, especially since I missed the Balat market yesterday. Always nice to catch up with the market guys, though!
It was in fact quite fitting that the pumpkin seller was at the market today. Because today’s recipe involves pumpkins.
Lentil and pumpkin soup is a variation on my take on the Turkish lentil soup. Adding roast pumpkin brings a sweetness which complements the slightly spicy lentil soup incredibly well. I simply love this combination and it’s been my go-to soup since winter set in in Istanbul last month.
Since the lentils and pumpkins add a lot of flavour of their own, I tend to use water rather than stock for this soup. If you prefer, for flavour or availability, substituting sweet potato for the pumpkins will yield an equally delicious and comforting bowl of soup. Serves 4.
Lentil and pumpkin soup
- 750 g pumpkin or sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 2+2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1,5 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp pul biber (Turkish chili flakes) or regular chili flakes or cayenne pepper to taste
- 175 g (200 ml) red lentils
- 1.2 lt water or light chicken or vegetable stock
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp pul biber (Turkish chili flakes) or 1 tsp paprika and a pinch of regular chili flakes or cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, to garnish (optional)
- salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C.
- Mix the pumpkin or sweet potato with 2 tbsp olive oil and some salt and pepper. Roast until softened but not too brown, 20-30 minutes or more, depending on the size of your cubes.
- Meanwhile, fry the onion in the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil over a medium heat until softened but not browned, 10-12 minutes. Stir regularly. Add tomato paste, 2 tsp pul biber (or regular chili flakes or cayenne pepper), lentils and some salt and pepper. Stir well. Add water, stir again. Put the lid on and bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn the heat to low and leave to simmer until the lentils are cooked and mushy, 10-15 minutes.
- When the lentils are cooked, add the roasted pumpkin or sweet potato cubes, reserving the nicest looking ones for garnish. Blitz the soup to a puree with a stick blender or regular blender. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, chili flakes or a few drops of lemon as necessary. I prefer the soup to be a little spicy, keeping in mind it will be served with a slightly spicy butter on top.
- Make Aleppo butter by melting the butter. When bubbling, take off the heat and stir in 1 tsp pul biber (or paprika + regular chili flakes or cayenne pepper).
- Serve the soup garnished with some whole cubes of pumpkin or sweet potato, a little Aleppo butter and a scattering of chopped parsley, if you like.
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Food from Turkey, the Middle East & beyond. 🇳🇴 in Istanbul.
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