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Pink Lentil Soup with Lamb Kofte

By: 
Michael Solomonov
pink lentil soup with lamb kofte
Photo: Michael Persico
Photo: Michael Persico

With my first opportunity to have my cooking professionally reviewed, I scrambled to find a new soup. Searching for inspiration at a local market, I spied a container of pink lentils. Pink lentils have great flavor but lose their shape after cooking—perfect for a pureed soup. They cook quickly and color the soup a beautiful golden orange. I had a whole lamb in the walk-in, so I smoked the neck and added it to the pot to give the soup some depth. Then I ground the shoulder to make lamb-stuffed cabbage dumplings.

As I mixed together the ingredients for the stuffing — ground lamb, grated onion, parsley, and cinnamon — the soup surprised me: It took on an Israeli profile. Following my instincts, I charred the ground lamb kofte in a pan and then wrapped them in cabbage leaves to finish cooking in a low oven. To me, the soup tasted just like an Israeli kebab shop, or as restaurant critic Craig LaBan was to write a few weeks later, "Jerusalem in a bowl."

Ingredients: 
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CARAMELIZED ONIONS
¼ cup olive oil
6 large onions, halved and sliced
Kosher salt
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SOUP
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups pink or red lentils
1 large carrot, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup caramelized onions
6 cups chicken stock
2 smoked turkey wings (optional)
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KOFTE
1 pound ground lamb
1 onion, grated
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 garlic cloves, minced
⅓ cup club soda
Canola oil, for cooking the kofte
8 large Napa cabbage leaves
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Directions: 

For the caramelized onions: Warm the oil over low heat in a large skillet. Add the onions and a couple pinches of salt. Cook over low heat, stirring periodically, until the onions are completely brown and almost spreadably soft, about 3 hours. Caramelized onions freeze well and will keep for a few months. Makes about 1 ½ cups.

For the soup: Warm the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the lentils, carrot, garlic, cumin seeds, salt, and caramelized onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrot begins to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and turkey wings, if you like, raise the heat to high, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the lentils have fallen apart and the flavors have thoroughly blended, about 1 ½ hours. Discard the turkey wings if using. Puree the soup in a blender until smooth, adding up to 1 cup water to thin the soup to the desired consistency.

For the lamb kofte: Combine the lamb, onion, parsley, salt, sugar, black pepper, cinnamon, garlic, and club soda in a large bowl. Mix gently by hand until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic onto the surface of the mixture, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

Working with damp hands, form the mixture into logs about 1 inch in diameter and 3 inches long. Arrange on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To cook the kofte: Heat ¼ inch oil in a large skillet until shimmering but not smoking. Add the kofte and sauté until nicely brown on all sides but still rare in the middle, about 3 minutes total.

To wrap and bake the kofte: Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the cabbage leaves and cook for 2 minutes, until softened. Transfer to a large bowl of ice water to chill, remove, and pat dry. Cut away and discard the tough vein at the bottom of each leaf, burrito style, and arrange in a small baking dish.

Lightly brush the wrapped kofte with oil and bake until the lamb is just cooked through, about 20 minutes.

To serve: Reheat the soup, ladle it into wide, shallow bowls, then slide in the lamb kofte.


Excerpted with permission from ZAHAV by Michael Solomonov. Copyright © 2015 by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook. Photography © 2015 by Mike Persico. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Chef Michael Solomonov was born in Israel and grew up in Pittsburgh. He and Steven Cook are the co-owners of CookNSolo Restaurants, home to some of Philadelphia's most distinctive culinary concepts, including Zahav, Federal Donuts, Abe Fisher, Dizengoff, Rooster Soup Co., and Goldie. They are a combined four-time James Beard Award Winners, including the 2016 "Best International Cookbook" and "Book of the Year" awards for their first cookbook, Zahav, and a 2011 "Best Chef Mid-Atlantic" win for Solomonov and who in May, was named the 2017 JBF's "Outstanding Chef".