Friday, 11 December 2015

A Little Spice to Make Things Nice!

"Chorba" Semplice con Finocchio, Zucchine, Pomodorini & Lenticchie Rosse
Simple Fennel, Zucchini, Cherry Tomato & Red Lentil "Chorba"

"Chorba" is the name used to describe a soup, or stew, in many, many cultures and countries... apparently! In Arabic, Balkan, Eastern European, Russian or even Asian countries, the names are similar,,, but of course, the spices used in each nations cuisines will be vastly different.

What made my vegetables soup into a "chorba" for me, was a Tunisian spice mix consisting of turmeric, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, aniseed, garlic and cumin that I bought pre-made at an Ethnic supermarket... keep your eyes and your minds open and try some of these things out! You will be glad you did- trust me!

I am not sure if or how something like this would be prepared in Tunisia, but I found this to be a lovely, aromatic, mild comforting addition to some everyday vegetables. Together with a couple of handfuls of red lentils to thicken the broth and add a little body, this was a quick, light and delicious evening meal... and again- something just a little different to the same-old, same-old...

For 2 good bowls of soup I needed 2 small round zucchini, 2 small carrots, 1 stalk of celery, 1 onion, 9-10 cherry tomatoes, 1/2 of a small bulb of fennel, 2 handfuls of red lentils and 2 tablespoons of Tunisian chorba spice. And yes- of course I used a little salt, pepper and olive oil too- but that almost goes without saying I should have thought!

Basically, for me, this dish was put together in the same way that any Italian would prepare a minestrone... you just use what you have in the fridge! So, the ingredients may vary from season to season, but the spices will remain and so will your interest in making this again and again- and having a different meal every time.

I began by frying the onion, fennel, celery and carrot, which were all chopped in a moderately fine dice in a little olive oil and seasoning with plenty of pepper and a good pinch of salt.

Once the onion had become translucent, I added the chopped zucchini, tomatoes and spices and stirred everything together until everything was nicely and evenly coated.

I added just enough water to half-cover my ingredients, brought it up to the boil, then reduced the heat till it was on a low simmer, put on the lid and let everything bubble away for 9-10 minutes.

I then added more water, brought that to the boil again and then added the lentils.

Once the lentils were stirred in, I let everything bubble away merrily for the next 10 minutes. And of course I did have a little taste (or 2!), in the meantime and adjusted the seasoning as necessary- zucchini are pretty sweet and tend to be rather bland otherwise.

After boiling for 10 minutes, I let it sit for 5 minutes more, covered and with the heat turned off, so that it could continue boiling gently, the flavors would infuse into the zucchini better and the lentils could thicken the broth... and then I served it up nice and hot, with little fresh pepper and a sprig or two of the fennel greens.

So- what is the moral of the story? If you get yourself some interesting spices and let them do all the work for you- you can easily make yourselves a meal like this in next to no time!

And that simple meal will be as tasty as tasty can be- just you mark my words!

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