Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: Shourba makhlouta mixes it up for a perfect winter soup!
shourbat makhlouta © linda dalal sawaya 2016
Hearty is an understatement! Shourbat makhlouta—the name of this hardy, protein-rich soup comes from the Arabic word for “mixed up” or “mixture” since it is made by “shopping” in your kitchen pantry for a little bit (literally 1 tablespoon) of every grain, legume, and bean that you have. Because I am an avid cook, as were my beloved mother, Alice, and grandmother (sitto) Dalal, my pantry is full as an organic bulk grocery aisle with many varieties of beans, grains, and legumes to enrich the soup. My sweet Lebanese friend Josephine tells me her mother added lamb to fortify the soup, while my dear mom’s was strictly vegetarian, so of course mine is too.
In this easy-to-make Lebanese soup recipe, it takes about a cup and a half of dried beans, grains, and legumes to about 7 cups of water, a couple of chopped onions, a generous amount of olive oil, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper all put into the pot, brought to a boil, and then simmered until everything is tender—about 1 1/2 to 3 hours. Ladle the finished soup into bowls with a drizzle of lemon juice to finish off and pita chips on the side. From the recipe on page 54 in Alice’s Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking.
shourbat makhlouta © linda dalal sawaya 2016
You can see in the detail photo how thick the soup has become because of the addition of red lentils, which cook and thicken quickly. The other ingredients in this particular batch starting with the large bean in the foreground are a tablespoon each of: scarlet runner beans from the garden, pintos, adzukis, small favas, white, cranberry (borlotti) beans also saved from the garden’s summer crop that hid until they were too tough for fresh green beans; black beans, red and green lentils, garbanzos, split peas, kidney and red beans, black-eyed peas, yellow peas, whole wheat berries, barley, brown rice, and on the right you can see a corn kernel, also from summer garden that was too starchy for fresh eating, so I left the kernels on the cob to dry in the pantry, and just plucked them off the cob and into the pot for the soup. Somehow even with the disparate sizes of ingredients, it all cooks to a wonderful, nourishing tenderness. I recently added quickly cooking quinoa and amaranth to the pot, which really thickens the broth.
This soup is traditionally made at the end of winter to clean out the pantry from the last year’s stores, and this is just what my makhlouta turned out to be. In going through my pantry, I found some large fava beans from several years back tucked away in a corner. There were holes in the beans and some round black dry questionable looking bits suspiciously the same size and shape as the holes. These did not go into the soup!
But my curiosity as a gardener prevailed and I added water to the jar of beans and soaked them overnight. This is my usual method to determine seed viability before I plant beans, peas, corn, and other large vegetable seeds. This method also gives the seeds a head start on slugs and birds, and others hungering after my tempting plump spring seeds and shoots.
After soaking, I rinse twice a day for a couple of days and observe to see if they sprout. Yes, this is how bean and seed sprouts are made! I will elaborate on this in an upcoming article, so stay tuned!
Here’s what happened:
Fava bean sprouts © linda dalal sawaya 2016
They sprouted in spite of the bug holes, which you can see! These large favas (ful in Arabic) are also called horse beans, and they are larger than a quarter, and after soaking get even bigger. These nitrogen-fixing plants enrich the garden soil, and are a very hardy staple for winter gardens in most Mediterranean countries. My parents’ Lebanese mountain village of Douma is no exception.
Fava bean bed © linda dalal sawaya 2016
So I planted them. In the Pacific Northwest where I live, they’re best planted in the fall for spring harvest. Often if I plant them in the spring, the summer blossoms, with a most divine fragrance, attract black aphids; while the fall-planted seeds produce before the season of the aphids. Mid-January must be a mid-winter planting. It will be interesting to see how these fare, since my fall-planted beans froze in the recent ice and snow. Here’s my new fava bean bed planted before covering with soil, with the first sign of spring—a snowdrop—blooming nearby! On a dark grey and misty Portland day, this life-giving activity energizes and gives me hope for the sunny days to come!
Garden gloves © linda dalal sawaya 2016
After planting it’s time to take off the muddy gloves and come inside to enjoy a steaming hot bowl of shourbat makhlouta! Sahtein!
Remember, as my mother Alice said, “If you make it with love, it will be delicious!”
Story and all photos © linda dalal sawaya 2016