Tuesday, 20 September 2011

fakes soupa

when my husband was doing his mandatory national service with the greek army he was posted in a small town called edessa in the north of greece and even though he had officer status he was paid only $100 a month..the only work available to me was in summer packing peaches in a dusty shed situated in the peach fields and even though most afternoons i tutored a friend i had made there in english it wasn't a paid job..as a consequence we had to live a very frugal life..

in terms of our accommodation we managed by renting a part of a house which had no running hot water in the kitchen or cooking facilities and no heating but it did have a hot water system in the outdoor bathroom so that we could shower..the hot water system was similar to the coppers our grandmothers used for washing except that the copper or water storage tank was enclosed in a brick structure with a small aperture at the bottom where the fire was lit to heat the water..for the two of us to shower in winter when the temperature dropped to minus 15 degrees c i would have to make sure the fire was going all day..

i said earlier there were no cooking facilities but that's not entirely accurate because there was a decrepit wood burning oven in the kitchen that i tried to get going after spending hours cleaning but to no avail..so i did what a lot of greek women do..i cooked on a three burner gas camp stove for certain meals and those that required an oven i took to the local baker who would cook the food for the equivalent of $0.20..sometimes in winter i would cook in a little wood fired oven that the woman from whom we rented would have going downstairs in her bedroom to heat her room..regardless of whether the food i cooked in that oven was savoury or sweet it always tasted better than any food cooked with gas or electricity..

lentil soup (fakes soupa) is a favourite with greeks and it can constitute a meal in itself with feta cheese or yoghurt and a cooked green salad so i started making it regularly because it was something i could make on my camp stove and because it was cheap and nutritious..the lentil soup i made back then was typically greek and i really enjoyed it but over time i have adapted the recipe without eclipsing its origins..the original recipe comes from a book i bought when i was living in greece and that is now falling apart with use.. 

one of my first cookbooks

and much loved! 

the basis of the recipe i now use is the same as the original but with a few tweaks here and there according to how i'm feeling on the day, and what i have on hand, so i don't follow a strict recipe per se which makes it a bit hard to write out but this is the one i made last night..

250 gms lentils (i prefer the small puy lentils)
1 onion cut into small dice
2-3 cloves of garlic cut fine
1 red chilli cut fine
2 tbs olive oil
750 mls tomato puree
1500 homemade chicken stock
1-2 bay leaves
3 tbs (or to taste) of cider vinegar
2 carrots cut into medium dice
2 medium sized potatoes cut into medium dice
a large handfull of rocket
extra olive oil
grated mizithra

  • check lentils for grit and stones and rinse well
  • saute onion, garlic and chilli in oil until softened
  • add lentils, stock and tomato and bring to boil, reduce to simmer, and then cook for 30 minutes
  • add carrot, potato, bay leaves, vinegar and salt to taste and cook until the lentils and vegetables are soft
  • add rocket and cook for a minute
put a couple of tablespoons of cooked brown rice in the bottom of a large shallow soup bowl, pour over soup and drizzle with extra olive oil and a dusting of mizithra cheese..

and serve with a big chunk of homemade sourdough bread..


  1. I adore lentil soup, And living frugally can be quite healthy too if you go the route of eating healthy home made soups and stews like this :)

  2. Years ago I worked one winter in Crete picking olives and we had a version of this soup most days brought out to the olive groves by the mother, she came with this and the bread and in her apron pocket a small handful of onions and garlic which we would peel and chop up on top of the lentils. I love lentils in soups and stews. It's the food I crave when I feel out of sorts. the meat stocks and the tomatoes make it rich and beautiful. I would love to sit round your table and chat and eat lentils xx

  3. we were very healthy nqn..meat about once a fortnight..lots of vegetables and fruit and we walked everywhere because we had no car..

    i would love to chat to you about your winter in crete over a bowl of soup joanna.. i'm not so sure about the raw onion and garlic chopped on top of the soup..maybe the locals used it as a contraceptive device :)

  4. I could very happily subsist on lentil soup. Agree completely about how frugal it is, just last night we had our pasta soup, which is basically a lentil and pasta soup cooked with a couple of ham bones that I get from the deli for free. The whole pot, which fed seven of us, cost about $3! :)

    Lovely story, Jane! :)

  5. that's a great sounding soup celia..nutritious cheap and flavoursome..and $3 to feed 7 is about as frugal as it gets..i'm impressed..

  6. That is a lovely story. Cart me away to Greece with your stories any day Jane.
    I haven't heard of mizithra cheese before, I'll have to look out for it.
    I agree too, lentils are such a wonderful way to fill bellies. (The basis of my childhood as well.)

  7. Now that's strange, I'm tucking into a steaming bowl of lentil stew as I type. With potatoes, courgettes, swiss chard, tomatoes, garlic and spices and topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt, it's just what is needed on a cold autumn night after a hard day's work. I can see how welcome this would have been for you in edessa. Sounds like a fab experience.

  8. thanks brydie..i've known about mizithra cheese since i lived in greece but it was one greek cheese that i hadn't used until recently..it's quite salty and strongly flavoured so only a little is needed and i'm often now using it in place of parmesan.

    your soup sounds wonderful choclette and especially good on a cold night after work..it was rather challenging living in edessa but at the same time it was pure joy..

  9. My love of soup is only surpassed by my adoration of warm, fresh bread dripping butter into my hand. Happily, soup is much healthier than the drippy butter and far fewer calories, too!

    Thank you for the inspiration to soak some lentils today. Soup is on the agenda for me tomorrow. Excellent because my hubby is away on business so I can sway from meat, potatoes, 2 veg and gravy. Hurrah!