26 September 2023

Lentil and pasta soup

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By Christine Salins.


Growing up above her grandparents’ Greek Cypriot taverna, Georgina Hayden developed a love of cooking and storytelling through the recipes passed down to her. Her first book, Stirring Slowly, was published in 2016, followed by the book about the food of her Cypriot family, Taverna, in 2019.

Her latest book, Nistisima (Bloomsbury, $52.99) was born out of her research in Cyprus while writing Taverna. She realized how many foods she had grown up eating revolved around the Greek Orthodox calendar.

Not only during Lent but also at many other times during the year, on particular days and weeks, people of Orthodox Christian faith eat only plant-based foods. This means no dairy, meat or fish, and sometimes not even wine or olive oil (because traditionally it was stored in animal-skin bags).

These fasting foods are known as nistisima and the practice is still observed widely around the Mediterranean, Middle East and Eastern Europe. People were eating vegan – vegetables, pulses and grains, almond ‘milk’, and cakes without eggs or butter – long before it became trendy in café culture.

Hayden uncovered fascinating tales and recipes from people and cultures all around the Mediterranean and beyond, resulting in a delicious collection of dishes in Nistisima.

There are recipes for breads, salads, cakes, preserves, drinks, vegetables, pulses and grains, all high on flavour and all – yes – vegan. The lentil and pasta soup here is a Lebanese recipe and one of Hayden’s favourites. Effortless to make and delicious the next day, she says if you try only one recipe in the book, make it this one.

Hayden stresses in her introduction that her book is for everyone, not only those practising a particular religion or diet.

“Perhaps you happen to be Orthodox and are looking for recipes to try while fasting, or maybe you are adopting a plant-based diet and need inspiration for meals. It could be that you see the recipes and stories of your relatives here, your roots, and you want to feel that connection with home. Or you simply want to eat more vegetables. Why and how you use this book is up to you.”

Rishta: lentil and pasta soup

Serves 4 to 6

200g green lentils

1.8 litres hot vegetable stock

2 onions

4 garlic cloves

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 bunch of coriander

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon ground coriander

125g fresh tagliatelle

Sea salt and freshly ground

black pepper

½ lemon

Rinse the lentils thoroughly under running water and pick out any stones. Place in a large pan with the hot stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and finely slice the onions and garlic. Place a large frying pan over a medium-low heat and add the olive oil and sliced vegetables. Sauté for 15 minutes, until softened and just coloured. Finely chop the coriander. Stir the cumin seeds and ground coriander in with the onion and fry for a minute. Stir in half the fresh coriander to the frying pan, fry for a further 2 minutes, then remove from the heat.

When the lentils are ready, stir in the sautéed onion mixture. Roughly tear the tagliatelle into smaller pieces and add to the soup. Season generously with salt and pepper and bring back to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Squeeze in the juice of the lemon half and finish with the remaining chopped coriander before serving.

Recipe and image from Nistisima, by Georgina Hayden, published by Bloomsbury, $52.99.

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