April 15, 2017

Harak Osba'o -- Damascus-style Lentil Noodle Stew

Lentils and rice are such a natural and common combination, that it's almost odd to think of them apart, let alone with an interloper. Lentils and pasta? You don't see them together all that often, outside certain soups (such as Harira), and the occasional vegetarian adaptation. However, the textures are surprisingly complementary, and these lentils definitely hold their own as a rightful ingredient that isn't a substitute for ground meat.

The name "Harak Osba'o" translates to "He burned his finger" suggesting an overeager cook who couldn't wait to tuck into an irresistible creation. The pomegranate molasses and tamarind concentrate give an enticing mild tanginess.

This version is adapted from a few different online versions, including one from The Food Obsessive and one from Taste of Beirut.

The garnish of cilantro and pomegranate seeds give a lovely burst of tart freshness to each bite.

Harak Osba'o
Damascus-style Lentil Noodle Stew

Serves 4

1 cup (200 grams) dried brown or green lentils, washed and drained
150 grams long pasta, broken into short lengths
2 medium yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, plus more for garnish
3 cups vegetable broth or water
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (more if using water instead of broth)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds to garnish (optional)
Ground sumac to garnish
Extra hot water (eg. from a recently boiled kettle) as needed (1 to 2 cups)

In a soup pot, fry the onion in olive oil over medium heat until softened and a little browned, about 10 minutes, then add the cilantro and garlic and fry a further few seconds, while stirring. Spoon out half of the onion-garlic-cilantro mixture into a small bowl and set aside to use as garnish at the end.

Add the lentils to the remaining onion-garlic-cilantro mixture, and add the water (preferably hot, from a recently boiled kettle, but cold is fine, it will just take longer to come up to a simmer). Add the salt. Salt won't make the lentils hard, but adding it now will help them keep from falling apart. Simmer the lentils on low until tender, 15 - 30 minutes, depending on the type, so watch them carefully!

Add the tamarind and pomegranate molasses and stir through. Add the pasta. You can use broken long pasta or short pasta such as small shells. There needs to be enough liquid for the pasta to absorb, resulting in a thick stew once the pasta has finished cooking, so you'll probably need to add a bit more water - start with about a cup - and then add the black pepper and other spices and stir them through.

Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until the pasta is tender and the mixture is no longer watery. Keep an eye on the amount of liquid, and if it's getting too thick, add more water, a little at a time. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Turn out into a large serving bowl or tureen, and garnish with the remaining onion-garlic-cilantro mixture and sprinkled with sumac (or, individual serving bowls, topped with the onion-garlic-cilantro mixture, and sumac). Fresh pomegranate seeds are also a nice garnish, if available, offering colour, texture, and juicy freshness.

If you don't have tamarind or pomegranate molasses? Try lemon juice or a little apple cider vinegar to bring the tanginess to the party. The simplest versions that I found call only for black pepper instead of the mix of spices, so you can do it that way, too, if you're so inclined. There are probably as many variations as there are cooks.

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