By Jordan Zakoor, as told to Elsa Goldstein

Jordan Zakoor entered her recipe for Citrus Red Lentil Soup as part of the PotashCorp Wintershines Warm the Heart Novice Soup Cook-Off, an event held in conjunction with the PotashCorp Wintershines Festival. And win the cook-off she did! This comforting lentil concoction is also what she serves at the Underground Cafe, a restaurant she co-owns in the Riversdale neighbourhood of Saskatoon.

My paternal grandfather was born in Windsor, Ont., but his family emigrated from Lebanon. It was his mother who taught my grandma how to cook Middle Eastern–style dishes, which we ate a lot of growing up, from hummus to tabbouleh to these amazing stuffed grape leaves. I remember my childhood food being a mix of these types of recipes in addition to more classic family-style dishes like roast beef and potatoes.

Growing up in Windsor, I ate at a lot of Lebanese restaurants as well. Most places had a staple lentil and lemon soup on their menu, and I was set on re-creating the dish at home while adding my own twist. My Citrus Red Lentil Soup recipe is inspired by my grandmother’s Lebanese cooking as well as the soup I so often enjoyed while eating out with my family in Windsor.

I now make this soup at the Underground Cafe, which I co-own and operate in Saskatoon. My partner started the café about 3 years ago, then I joined this past year. We’ve expanded the café since I joined and, while it didn’t start this way, I’ve been cooking more and more. When I added my soup recipe to the restaurant’s menu, a lot of our customers gave it rave reviews.

I’ve always loved cooking with lentils; they’re healthy, high in fibre and iron and really versatile. I like to use them in salads and pasta dishes, plus in tomato sauces and soups. Growing up, my aunt and my mom used them in a lot of vegetarian dishes, so I was very exposed to their flavour and texture.

For me, Canadian food is all about using local ingredients whenever possible. Sometimes, this can be a challenge because those ingredients might be harder to hunt down, but it’s always worth it. Here in Saskatchewan, we use a lot of locally grown grains, legumes and root vegetables, which I love. The red lentils I use for this particular recipe are also grown here in Saskatchewan. I pick them up from the SaskMade Marketplace, a small market that sells mainly locally sourced goods.

I think everyone can enjoy this recipe because it only uses a handful of ingredients yet manages to be both hearty and refreshing at the same time, thanks to the use of filling lentils and bright lemon juice.

Citrus Red Lentil Soup, courtesy of Jordan Zakoor

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Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients
3 tbsp (45 mL) olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp (15 mL) ground cumin
2 tsp (10 mL) dried cilantro
1 tsp (5 mL) dried parsley
½ tsp (2 mL) salt + more to taste
½ tsp (2 mL) ground cayenne pepper
6 cups (1.5 L) vegetable broth
2½ cups (625 mL) split red lentils
¾ cup (175 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) liquid honey

Directions
1. In large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat Sauté onion until translucent and slightly softened. Stir in garlic, cumin, cilantro, parsley, ½ tsp (2 mL) salt and cayenne pepper. Sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in broth.
2. Rinse lentils well in lukewarm water. Drain.
3. Once broth is close to boiling, stir in lentils; simmer, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. (Optional: Once lentils are tender, purée soup slightly to get smoother consistency. The lentils tend to break down the more you boil them.)
4. Stir in lemon juice and honey until well combined. Adjust salt to taste.

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