The temperature is finally dropping close to freezing at night here in Rome, which is actually one of my favorite times of the year. I love keeping the fireplace going and burrowing under a pile of warm blankets on the bed, and most of all I love winter foods. I thought a very hearty soup would be a perfect way to start off the month of December. The team from Eating Asia blog, Robyn Eckhardt and David Hagerman, have just the soup for us, and I am really happy to have learned about this dish. It is a Turkish soup with tomato and green lentil soup with chewy noodles and crispy croutons, called kesme asi and it looks divine. If you find you’re in need of a very hearty winter soup, you’ve found it! Note- it can be made vegan-friendly with a couple of tiny adjustments. -Kristina
About Robyn and David
Food and travel journalist Robyn Eckhardt and editorial and commercial photographer David Hagerman live in Penang, Malaysia and road trip often in Turkey. They collaborate on a twice-monthly column on street food for Wall Street Journal Asia, are on the masthead at Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, and are contributors at food and wine website Zester Daily. Their work –separately and together — can also be found in Saveur, New York Times Travel Section and SBS Feast. Robyn was the founding Food Editor at Time Out Kuala Lumpur. When not on the road Robyn leads private street food walks in Penang. David conducts group and private photography workshops in Penang and in Turkey.
For the last eight years Robyn and David have published the visually rich, award-winning food blog EatingAsia, which explores street food and culinary traditions in Asia and Turkey. They are currently researching their first cookbook, on the foods of Istanbul and eastern Turkey, to be published by Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2016.
See how to make Robyn and Dave’s soup after the jump!
Tomato and Green Lentil Soup with Chewy Noodles and Crispy Croutons
If you’ve never made noodles by hand, this is the perfect recipe with which to start doing so: the dough for this rustic pasta isn’t rolled super thin and it doesn’t matter if the noodles end up unevenly shaped. Kesmi asi broth can be made ahead — in fact the flavor improves with some time in the refrigerator– and the noodle dough can sit for up to three hours in the refrigerator. But the croutons should be made, and the noodles added to the broth to boil, right before serving.
For the soup:
- Scant 1 cup dried green lentils
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon grapeseed or other neutral oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 medium carrot, diced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 large plum tomatoes (or 4 medium regular tomatoes), chopped
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper or more to taste (you can use pul biber, Turkish red pepper flakes, if you can find it)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with 3 tablespoons water
- 1 small potato, diced
- 4-5 packed tablespoons purple basil leaves, minced (or substitute Italian basil)
Melt the butter and grapeseed oil together in a 3 to 5-liter sauce/soup pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion, carrot, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook and stir for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook until they give off their juices and soften almost to a paste, about 8 minutes.
Add the Turkish red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste/salca and water mixture, then add the potatoes. Drain the lentils and add them to the pot, along with 1 3/4 liters of water. Bring the soup to a boil and then lower to a steady simmer and cook, partially covered, until the lentils are soft and the broth tastes rich and tomato-ey, about 45 minutes to an hour. (The broth should be thick but not stewy; add more water 1/2 cup at a time if needed.)
Stir in the basil and remove from the heat. At this point you can go ahead and make the noodles or set aside/refrigerate the soup for later.
For the noodles and croutons:
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg
- Tepid water
Sift the flour into a large, wide bowl and add the salt. Use your hand to stir the ingredients together.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and break the egg into it. Use your forefinger to break the yoke and to mix it with the white. Now, mix the flour and egg by drawing the flour into the egg with the tips of your fingers, and then using the heel of your hand to press the ingredients together. Turning the bowl as you go, repeat until the flour and egg are combined (the mixture will be crumbly).
Add water to the mixture, starting with 2 tablespoons for the first addition and 1 tablespoon at a time after that. After each addition of water work the liquid into the dough with your fingers. Stop adding water when the dough is firm but soft enough that your finger still leaves an imprint in it, and not sticky; a Turkish cook would say it should feel “like your earlobe”.
Knead the dough until it is smooth and shows a bit of elasticity, about 3-5 minutes. Form it into a ball, wrap in plastic, and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour and for up to three hours.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and separate out approximately one quarter of the dough. Wrap the rest of the dough up and set it aside.
Roll the small piece of dough back and forth between your palms, shaping it into a short thick rope. Lay the rope parallel to your body on a wide floured surface and roll it back and forth, using your fingers to stretch it as you roll. When the rope is about 2 feet long press your fingers or the heel of your hands along its length, flattening it as you go. Cut the now flat length of dough into ½ -inch squarish pieces and set aside on a plate.
Unwrap the rest of the dough and divide it in two. Working on a lightly floured surface use a rolling pin to flatten and stretch one piece until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Don’t worry if the dough piece is of uneven thickness or an odd shape.
To cut the noodles, place your hand flat on the edge of the dough farthest from your body, palm down and thumb facing you. Slice pieces of dough ¼ to 1/2-inch wide, using the upper edge of your hand to guide the knife along its curve. Move your “guiding” hand around the piece of dough, cutting as you go, until it’s used up. Don’t worry about making the noodles perfect! They’re meant to be rustic and uneven in size, some long and others short, inconsistent in width.
To finish the soup:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil
- a handful of purple basil leaves, roughly chopped (substitute Italian basil)
Bring the broth to a boil and drop in the noodles. Cook them at a medium simmer, stirring occasionally to make sure that they cook evenly, until they are tender and cooked through but still a bit chewy, 12-15 minutes.
While the noodles are cooking, melt the butter together with the grapeseed oil over medium-low heat in a 12-inch skillet (preferably non-stick). When the butter-oil mixture bubbles, add the croutons and cook, stirring, until they crisp, puff up and become golden (don’t let them go to dark brown). Remove to a piece of paper towel to drain.
Why Robyn and Dave love this recipe
This dish is from Kars, a province in Turkey’s far northeast. Kesmek means “to cut” in Turkish – a reference to the rustic noodles in this soup, which are cut by hand. The dish also speaks to Kars’ proximity to Caucasus; Kyrgyzstan also has a noodle soup (with lamb) called kesme. Kesme asi is true ev yemegi (home-style food). We love this recipe because beyond the fact that it’s delicious and incredibly comforting, it confounds preconceptions that many people hold about Turkish cuisine as being very meat-centric with a limited range of flavoring and herbs, and not having many noodle-based dishes. This soup has all three of those elements. Many people think that the only pasta dish in Turkey is manti. But in fact dried noodles called eriste are pantry staples for most Turkish home cooks and in the northeast, at least, it’s not uncommon to make fresh noodles for a meal (you would probably find few noodle dishes in restaurants).