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.
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.)