Adas | Simple Lentil Soup

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My father loves to laugh. He also loves to make others laugh. He has a bank of jokes and funny stories that our family has heard him repeat our entire lives. Regardless of how many times we’ve heard them, we laugh every time and will probably pass them on to the next generation of our family. We’ve also uncomfortably sat through when he’s translated these jokes to English for our friends or in-laws and when the punchline is met with silence, we’re there to follow up with “it’s funny in Arabic, trust us.” I guess even the funniest Dad jokes get lost in translation. Yet here I am, about to attempt that.

This is part joke, part story. My father tells it as a joke, but my mother insists my grandmother claimed it was based off a true story. The story goes that one day, before a man set off to work, his wife asked him what he’d like to eat for dinner when he returned home. His response was “hobit adas,” which translates literally to “one lentil” but in Arabic is used figuratively to humbly describe an entire meal. (You might hear someone refer to making a pot of rice as “hobit ruz” or “a grain of rice.”) So naturally as Arabic speakers, we knew that the man meant he wanted a pot of lentil soup. After a long day of working, he returned home and made his way to the kitchen to see if his wife had taken his suggestion and cooked Adas. He opened the pot that was simmering on the oven to find it filled entirely with water. Confused, he asked his wife what happened to the Adas. She told him to stir the pot and he would find his “hobit adas” floating around in the pot of water. After that, she became known as ‘Idaysa around the neighborhood, a nickname based off her famous dish of lentil soup or Adas. Now every time we’re cooking Adas, my father jokingly checks the pot to make sure it’s not filled with water and one lonely lentil.

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In the month of Ramadan, Adas is a staple part of Iftar, the meal we break our daily fast with. More days than not in Ramadan, we have a pot of Lentil Soup simmering ready to soothe hungry, fasting bellies. Although it’s now seen by many as an appetizer to a much larger spread of food, my mother always cooked this as an entire meal. Legume-based dishes are often categorized as poor-man’s food, but to me they’re comforting, filling, and often a healthier option.

This recipe for Adas is the most simple form of the dish, only requiring 5 ingredients. It’s perfect on its own, but also is a great canvas for you to dress to your liking. You can easily add vegetables like carrots or potatoes, rice or noodles to make it more hearty, or adjust spices and seasonings. Or when you only got about an hour to spare, you can fall back on this recipe and still have an easy and appetizing meal. I’m also sharing how to make Dakkah, a chili and garlic condiment that is commonly served alongside Adas and many other legume-based dishes.

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Adas | Simple Lentil Soup

Prep Time: 30 minutes     Cook Time: 30 minutes     Yields: 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (1 medium-sized or 2 small onions)
  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 6-8 cups of water
  • salt

Dakkah (optional):

  • 1 jalapeño (or your favorite chili pepper)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt
  • olive oil

Instructions:

To prepare your lentils, rinse them gently 1-2 times with water. Then place them in a bowl and fill it with enough water to cover the lentils and leave them to soak for about 30 minutes. In this time, chop the onion and prepare the Dakkah.

To prepare the Dakkah: Using a mortar and pestle, smash the chilis and garlic with a generous sprinkle of salt until they become a chunky-paste consistency. Then combine with the lemon juice. Transfer to a small bowl and finish with a drizzle of good quality olive oil on top.

To cook the lentil soup, warm the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté the onions in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes until they soften and start to lightly brown. Add the lentils and any residual water leftover from soaking and cook until almost all the liquid is gone, stirring occasionally.

When it looks almost dry, add 2 cups of water to start. Stir and cover the pot, allowing it to simmer on medium to medium-low heat for about 8-10 minutes. The lentils will start to break down into a creamier consistency and the soup will thicken. Add an additional 2 cups of water, the cumin, and black pepper. Again, allow it to simmer for about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. One last time, add an additional 2-4 cups of water based on how thick or thin you like the consistency of your soup to be. Season with salt and allow the soup to simmer on low heat for another 10 minutes. Stir consistently because at this point the soup can easily start sticking to the bottom of the pot and burn. When the soup is at the consistency you like, turn off the heat.

Serve the soup immediately with the Dakkah as a condiment. Other options to serve alongside Adas are warm bread, fresh lemon, and aromatic fresh vegetables like green onions and radishes. Leftover Adas should be cooled and then can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days or frozen in an air-tight container for 2-3 months.

Here are some more photos of the process:

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Here are what the lentils look like after soaking. Soaking the lentils and gradually adding the water makes a creamier soup consistency.
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Dakkah Ingredients and my grandfather’s mortar & pestle from Palestine
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Adding salt to the chilis and garlic helps break them down and make smashing them into a paste easier
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Tip: If the chili peppers you use are spicier than you expected, add a more generous drizzle of olive oil. The fat in the oil helps cool down the heat.
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The onions after a few minutes cooking, ready for the lentils.
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Soaked lentils being added to the cooked onions
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Best served family-style!

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