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Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soup

posted on: Mar 23, 2016

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soup

shourbat kibbet heeli © linda dalal sawaya 2016

Shourbat kibbet heeli, an old time variation on lentil soup, begins with mama’s basic lentil soup recipe in Alice’s Kitchen. The potatoes rather than being diced and cooked with the lentils are boiled, peeled, and mashed with minced onions and made into fritter-like dumplings that are dropped into the lentil soup just before serving.

My intro to this recipe came out of a conversation with my beloved mother as I was drumming up more recipe ideas for a revised edition of the cookbook in 2005. I was fishing for old recipes in mama’s memory, as the premise of my cookbook was to preserve the village family culinary traditions. Mama remembered this old-country village soup with fond nostalgia. She had never really made it for us growing up, and now I believe I know why.

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soup  Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soupI

red potatoes boiled and peeled for dumplings © linda dalal sawaya 2016

I want to share my experience of this recipe and what I learned with you here. If you have been following my weekly food and garden column, you’ll know that I like to experiment, I love to cook, and I love to try new things. I hadn’t made this recipe probably for at least ten years, and I decided to revisit it, with one accommodation for my being “gluten free”. Instead of bulgar, burghul in Arabic, which is a form of wheat, I used red quinoa which is a protein-rich seed that can be used like a grain.

 Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soup  Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soup

red quinoa as a stand in for burghul in the dumplings © linda dalal sawaya 2016

The dumplings were fun to make, and reminded me of frying up last week’s falafel. One caution that must be taken is to not over-process the potato. I used red skinned potatoes which are lower in starch than other varieties, but my mistake was over processing them in my food processor. Most Lebanese village cooks back in my mama and sitto’s day, no doubt mashed these by hand with little chance to over process them. In my mini food processor, the onions with the boiled potatoes were fine one minute and then turned shiny and gooey in the next.

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soup  Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soup

dumplings for shourbat kibbet heeli © linda dalal sawaya 2016

And boy, rolling the sticky dough into balls was a challenge! I added more quinoa and flour to get them to release from my palms. Extra virgin olive oil and refined coconut oil are what I used to fry the dumplings. Be sure to taste the dough after adding the seasonings: salt, pepper, cumin, and cayenne pepper, otherwise they will be bland.

  Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soup  Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soup

dumplings for shourbat kibbet heeli © linda dalal sawaya 2016

Finding fresh chard and parsley to add into the soup at the end of the cooking was a blessing to lighten what otherwise would have been just too heavy. Lemon juice that I had frozen in ice cube trays were another perfect addition right before serving that kept the chard bright green.

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soup  Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soup

chard and parsley for shourbat kibbet heeli © linda dalal sawaya 2016

Ultimately, I believe this dish was designed for those harsh times when food was scarce, and people needed to feel full just by eating soup. The addition of these dumplings to a perfectly wonderful lentil soup, left us feeling quite stuffed the entire day. My recommendation is to stick with mama’s original lentil soup recipe in Alice’s Kitchen, and dice the potatoes and cook into the broth, unless you’re really famished.

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soup

shourbat kibbet heeli © linda dalal sawaya 2016

Of course the soup was delicious since it was made with love. There’s always something new to learn in the kitchen so I hope you learn from my faux pas. If you’re planning a summer garden, be sure to plant your peas! Happy cooking, happy gardening, and sahtein!

Linda Dalal Sawaya is a Portland artist, cook, Master Gardener, daughter of Lebanese immigrants, and author of Alice’s Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking   

Remember, as my mother Alice said, “If you make it with love, it will be delicious!”

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soup

Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya—hearty Lebanese mountain lentil soup

story and all photos © linda dalal sawaya 2016