Lokanta Mercimek Çorbası (Red Lentil and Bulgar Wheat Soup)

‘Hüzün, which denotes a melancholy that is communal rather than private. Offering no clarity, veiling reality instead, hüzün brings us comfort, softening the view like the condensation on a window when a teakettle has been spouting steam on a winter’s day. Steamed-up windows make me feel hüzün, and I still love getting up and walking over to those windows to trace words on them with my finger. As I shape words and figures on the steamy window, the hüzün inside me dissipates and I can relax; after I have done all my writing and drawing, I can erase it all with the back of my hand and look outside. It is time to come to a better understanding of this feeling that the city of Istanbul carries as its fate’ – Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories and the City. On days like today, when recent memories of bright Italian sunlight has been brutally replaced by the prospect of a long grey and wet day as we battle against the masses to reach our destinations, it is easy to slip into the abyss of melancholy. Yet Pamuk is right, there is something beautiful in the soft and earthy qualities of greige; we must learn to embrace it for it is the perfect excuse to hunker down, light the candles – in Scandinavia, even 7am meetings are illuminated with soft flickering candlelight – and indulge in some restorative goodness. Last April, on a similarly cold and wet day in Istanbul, we ordered steaming bowls of this classic and much loved soup from the counter of a tiny lokanta situated in the Beşiktaş district near the imposing Dolmabahçe Palace; once the administrative centre of the late Ottoman Empire and home to the last sultan, it is a vulgar and overbearingly dark place that filled even my positive soul with a deep sense of hüzün. However, just a couple of spoonfuls of this beautiful and nourishing soup restored my mood instantly; it’s like a warm kiss from a thousand mothers.

Lokanta Mercimek Corbasi


3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for garnishing
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 large red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato purée
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp of crushed chilli flakes
1 tsp dried mint
250g of red lentils, rinsed
150g of toasted bulgar wheat
Juice of a lemon (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste

How I make it

Heat up the oil in a large pan, add the carrot, onion and garlic and sauté them for around five minutes until they are soft.

Add the tomato purée, tinned tomatoes, spices and mint; stir for a minute or two until everything is combined.

Add the lentils, bulgar wheat and about 1.5 litres of cold water. Bring to the boil, partially cover and simmer for around 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and, if you need to, topping up with hot water until the grains are cooked through.

Blend to a chunky consistency, adding more hot water if you need to to achieve your desired consistency. Add the lemon juice (if using) and season to your taste.

Serve with a lightly sautéed garnish of red chilli and chopped spring onion, a sprinkle of pul biber, a drizzle of olive oil alongside some freshly baked Turkish flatbread and a little bowl of Turkish yoghurt.



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