(a traditional Turkish red lentil soup)

Rich urfa chili oil elevates simple, nourishing red lentil soup into a gastronomic event. We accidentally spilled the urfa chili oil in this bowl for the photograph. In an ideal world, there might be a little bit less….

When I was 19, I spent seven weeks traveling around Turkey on $10 a day. On that budget, we ate a lot of soup! The ubiquitous red lentil soup was a staple, and I never grew tired of it.

I’m revisiting that memory now, first of all because it’s January. Time for something warm. Time for a dietary reset, after all the excesses (caloric and budgetary) of the holiday season.

Also, the store finally got Turkish urfa chili flakes in the bulk spice section, and they’re a revelation. Sun-dried and aged. Dark purple, verging on black. Malty, umami, like a deep red wine. A pleasant medium heat. We add a little to the pot, but the real flavor comes through in the chili-oil swirl.

1 yellow onion, chopped1 heaping tsp cumin powder
2 medium carrots, chopped½ tsp coriander powder
2 cloves garlic, chopped3 Tbsp urfa chili flakes, divided
1 white potato, cubed1 C red lentils
6 Tbsp EVOO, divided7 C water or broth
2 Tbsp tomato paste1 Tbsp lemon juice, plus lemon wedges to serve

In a Dutch oven or similar heavy-bottom pot, soften the onion, carrots, and garlic in 2 Tbsp olive oil for a few minutes.

Add the tomato paste, potato, cumin, coriander, 1 Tbsp urfa flakes, lentils, water, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, and then simmer until everything is soft, about 25 minutes.

Remove from heat, and blenderize until it’s smooth but not quite silky. Taste for salt and lemon.

Meanwhile, make the chili oil. In your smallest pot or saucepan, heat the urfa chili flakes in the remaining 4 Tbsp olive oil. Let it bubble around without burning for 2-3 minutes. Spoon over the soup, and give a quick swirl before serving.

Serve with lemon wedges. Some bread, salty white cheese, and olives on the table would also be nice. Cube some cucumbers and dress with olive oil. You have a meal.