Thursday, October 10, 2013

Vospov Chorbah/Abour...or Red Lentil Soup!

I would like to politely interrupt the current Georgia-vacation postings, if I may, since this IS a nutrition blog as well (says so on the homepage!).

As the the humidity of summer comes to an end, and is replaced by a nice cool breeze, it is time to celebrate one of the best aspects of fall: making SOUP!

I love soup. To quote Buster from Arrested Development, "I could lie in bed all day drinking soup and I would be happy". Soup heats you up inside-out and makes life cozier. I tend to make large pots of soups so it is always associated with inviting friends over to enjoy it together. There are so many different types of soups, I can never understand how anyone can not like it.

My personal favourite is vospov chorbah, or red lentil soup. It is a soup from my childhood, and since my mom is an amazing cook, hers was always better than any restaurant. She kept it simple and delicious and fall would always be a reminder to me that vospov chorbah would become a weekly dinner.

It took me a while to learn how to master it, since there are little tricks to make it perfect. If one thing didn't go right when I would try to re-create it (like that time I forgot to buy cumin and was already in my pajamas), I would consider it a huge fail and eat the soup with so much bitterness and would refuse to let anyone else try it.

But no more! I have made this soup so often that I consider myself a pro. I still would get nervous if I had to make it for my mom, but for friends and other family, it is as good as it gets. I stick with the original recipe and it is considered to be "Western Armenian" cuisine - hence the use of the Turkish "chorbah" rather than abour.

So after all this rambling, there is no better day than today to make a nutritious and delicious soup that will ease you into the chillier times. Here we go!

What you need (and don't forget anything like I did and hate yourself for 3 entire hours):
-Red lentils! (Surprisingly, they are quite uncommon in Armenia, where the small dark green lentil reigns supreme. You can always find it though, if you look hard enough. Or in any Syrian-Armenian shop!)
-1 large yellow onion, or a couple of small/medium ones
-Salcha! Aka tomato paste
-Cumin. Never forget the cumin.
-1 bunch parsley (you will use less so if you have some lying around, no need to buy more)
-Red hot pepper powder (even if you do not care for spicy food, a little makes a nice difference)
-A tablespoon of oil (we keep it light)
-1 lemon

To begin:
You must rinse the lentils repeatedly. If you follow anything I say in this post, let it be this: RINSE THE LENTILS MULTIPLE TIMES. It is the only boring part that I dread but is so necessary. The lentils are filthy and grimy and you will see it in the colour of the water. I really get in there and fill the pot and violently shake it with my hand (so therapeutic) and then drain that water, not letting any of my lentils follow, and repeat this at least 4-5 times. Then, depending on the colour of the water, you can put the lentils in a strainer (make sure the holes are small enough to keep the lentils from falling through!) and give them another good rinse. I could go on about how many times improper rinsing led myself and others to become very sick - the bad stomach-queasy sick where you don't remember what not being sick felt like. So please do this part - the lentils will taste better and you will not miss out on important events with a bad excuse no one will believe like "the dirt from my lentils made me sick since I didn't listen to Lena's warning". You will also be so embarrassed when I find out!
Colour of doom
Second, and this is somewhat boring as well but much quicker: add just enough water to cover the lentils by half an inch (it is meant to be a thick soup) and begin boiling. You can keep some water boiled in a kettle if you need to add more, not to stunt the cooking process. Once it begins to boil, you will see foamy bubbles rise to the top, covering the beautiful lentils. Remove as much of this foam as you can! I once decided not to when I was trying out a rebellious phase and really noticed the difference in taste. So remove as many of these foamy bubbles as you can while it boils.
Action shot!
While the lentils are cooking foam bubble-free, chop your large onion or medium ones. My mom sometimes adds it in whole as it is meant for flavour, but I like to chop mine occasionally too. Add them to the pot while the lentils are cooking so they cook together.

After about 10 minutes or so, add the oil, salt and 1-1&1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste, and lower the heat. Stir it occasionally. The lentil soup should have a nice orange colour. If it is red, you have put too much tomato paste and you will have to live with that for the rest of you life.

About 7 minutes later, check on the lentils and as they are almost done, add the cumin, salt and red pepper. Chop some parsley while the lentils finish cooking (they should be quite lumpy), and once they are done, turn off the heat, add some chopped parsley, stir, and cover the pot. Let it sit as this is when lentil soup really begins to be all it can be - very flavourful and mushy (that is a good thing).

When you are ready to enjoy the soup, you can sprinkle on some extra cumin and parsley, a couple of squeezes of lemon, and enjoy!
The lentil soup can stand on its own, but we paired it with a nice salad too!
Not only is this soup delicious, but it has protein and iron. While plant-based iron (non-hemme) is harder for the body to absorb, vitamin C helps us absorb it! So the vitamin C present in both the parsley and lemon work with the iron creating a win-win and delicious situation!

You can also blend this soup, which is what most restaurants do in order to give it a liquid consistency.

I would love to hear how yours turned out! I will be so proud of my little blog-babies!

Did you know? our bodies use up vitamin C in 4 hours! Talk about an important vitamin! Considering vitamin C is one of the most powerful anti-oxidants that clear out free radicals (toxins) in our body, make sure to incorporate it as many times as you can during your day!


  1. My two cents on incorporating vitamin C in your diet. If, like me you think about drinking lemon water throughout the day, make sure to rinse your mouth with water afterwards, as acid harms tooth enamel.

    A useful tip learned during our trip to Georgia is only one of the many benefits of having Lena around :-)

  2. Hi Lena! jan! I would like to make this soup, but I have one question: how many cups of red lentils did you use? It shouldn't matter in terms of the water ratio as you mention to "add just enough water to cover the lentils by half an inch," but I assume it would make a difference in relation to the 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of tomato paste. Thanks!

  3. Hi Adrineh! For this one I used 2.5 cups, but I prefer it thick & mushy, so would even go over 3!

  4. Great, thanks! I don't want it too thick or mushy, so I think I'll stick to 2.5 cups :) I'll let you know how it turns out!