Saturday, January 20, 2007

Soup for a Rainy Season

It is easy to overlook the wonder of rain. Beyond the fact that it emerges from moving, ominous grey things called CLOUDS and falls from the SKY (two awe-inspiring features, if you ask me), there is also the breath of cool air that foreshadows its first drops, the sound rain makes on different objects (a tin roof, a pool, a window pane), and the moist, earthy smell that land somehow conceals until rain comes, just like bread hides the smell of toast.

I’ve always enjoyed rain. After all, if the weather was beautiful everyday, when would I play cards, watch two movies in a row, bake cookies, organize photos, paint my fingernails, or write long e-mails? Rain gives you permission to be cooped up and sedentary, and to ponder, over a bowl of soup, how to make the best out of the situation.

Living in Zimbabwe has deepened my rain-appreciation. Here, rain only falls between November and April. Those first dust-dampening storms literally transform the landscape from shades of brown to a bright, new green. Rain is also critical to the country’s lifeblood – agriculture. This year, the rainy season got off to a sluggish start. There were a few storms in mid-November, but then the sun and heat returned, and by the time I visited a few rural communities in early December…well, people had begun whispering the dreaded D-word (drought). With farmers facing many challenges beyond the weather (such as the inavailability and high cost of seed and fertilizer), a good rainy season is critical to averting hunger. So, I am especially happy to see today’s rain, and a steady, soaking rain it is.

We had invited two friends over for tennis and a light lunch, but the rain nixed the tennis, as well as my enthusiasm for the green salad I had planned on serving alongside a chard and saffron tart. Soup was in order, and Tunisian Tomato Soup is the prefect choice for a cool, drizzly day, combining all the comforts of tomato soup with the heartiness of lentils and chickpeas, a sunray of lemon, and classic Tunisian accents of cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne and raisins.

Let it rain!

Tunisian Tomato Soup
Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven
Serves at least 8 as a starter

1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 cinnamon stick
6 cups / 1½ liters water
2 tablespoons / 30 milliliters olive oil
4 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons / 10 milliliters salt
1 teaspoon / 5 milliliters ground turmeric
1½ teaspoons / 7½ milliliters cumin seeds
2 teaspoons / 10 milliliters ground cumin
3 bay leaves
1 28-ounce / 800-gram can crushed tomatoes
1 14-ounce / 400-gram can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3-4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup raisins, soaked in warm water and drained

Put the lentils, cinnamon stick and water in a medium saucepan, and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Remove the cinnamon stick and drain the lentils, saving the water.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Toss in the onions and garlic and sauté for 5-8 minutes until the onions are soft. Add the tomatoes and six cups of water (including the reserved cooking water from the lentils). Bring the pot to a boil, and then lower the heat so that the soup is simmering. Partially cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.

Add the cooked lentils and chickpeas and stir. Simmer for five minutes, until the chickpeas are heated through. Stir in the lemon juice, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Serve hot, topped with a sprinkling of raisins. (I like to soak the raisins in warm water beforehand so that they are nice and plump, but you don’t have to.)


Maureen said...

Rain - rain in Africa - rain on a tin roof - brings back so many memories. We had a big barrel right outside my bedroom window to collect the rain water from the roof for the garden. I would go to sleep with those sounds.

Carolyn said...

Maureen - I agree, the sound of rain on a tin roof is one of the best sounds to sleep to!

Jeanne said...

Oh, how I miss African rain. The smell of hot tar roads in the rain is one of my favourite smells in the world - and the roads here never get hot enough for generate that smell :-( I love the huge drops of an African rainstorm, and I miss listening to the sound of rain on my parents' roof.