It was Mother’s Day on Sunday and Sydney was shrouded in smoke from three days of burn-offs in the Blue Mountains. As a result of the smoke haze, I developed a hacking cough. I come from a family on my father’s side with a history of tuberculosis and other lung diseases. My great grandfather died of tuberculosis despite moving his family to the Blue Mountains for the cure. When I get a cough, it can take weeks and sometimes even months to shift. I find it very embarrassing, as if this inherited lung weakness signals some kind of deeper moral weakness.
Years ago, I spent three weeks in bed with influenza – after I recovered from the ’flu, I developed pneumonia. Compared to the ’flu, pneumonia felt relatively benign, so I walked around for about a week in denial about an embarrassing, hacking cough, before finally, a friend’s sister doing first-year medicine told me I really should go and see a doctor. The minute my doctor heard my cough, he sent me off for an X-ray – he recognised the deep bass hacking cough of pneumonia instantly. A course of penicillin killed the infection in my lungs, but then had to recover from the worst hacking cough I’ve ever had. I’d lie in bed coughing like somebody out of a tragic Victorian novel and wondering if my cough, a product of generations of inherited lung weakness, would kill me. In my weakened state, this felt like no ordinary cough, but a deep dark karmic cough from the past. I eventually recovered but my brush with pneumonia gave me an appreciation for the power of modern antibiotics – I’m certain in another time or place I would have probably died.
After spending my weekend coughing, on Monday I decided the only thing to do try and shift my karmic family cough was to make soup. We love soup in our family and this red lentil soup is my favorite at the moment. My son prefers the brothy, bread dunking soups but on the day after Mother’s Day, I felt I deserved my favorite soup to try and ease my embarrassing cough away. There is something wonderfully soothing about the combination of lentils and rice. This is a soup that seems like it can cure all ills, even a cough that has settled in like the tuberculosis ghost of generations past.
Mum’s favourite red lentil soup
Adapted from Falafel for Breakfast by Micheal Rantissi and Kristy Frawley
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 brown onion finely chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 4 carrots grated
- 1 zucchini (courgette) grated
- 2 litres (8 cups) vegetable stock
- 155 grams (¾ cup) red lentils, washed and drained
- 55 grams (¼ cup) short grain rice, washed and drained
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- chilli flakes (optional)
- 1 large handful of parsley chopped coarsely
- Lemon wedges to serve (optional).
- In a large saucepan, heat olive oil and saute onion and garlic for 5 minutes until translucent. Do not allow to brown. Add grated carrot and saute for about 3 minutes then add zucchini and saute for another 1 minute.
- Add stock, lentil and rice, bring to the bowl lower heat and simmer for 25–30 minutes until the lentils have disintegrated and rice is soft and cooked.
- Add tumeric, cumin and chilli flakes (if using). Cook for a further 5 minutes for flavours to meld. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Remove from heat, add parsley and serve with lemon quarters, to squeeze over soup, just before eating.