A Market Walk and Red Lentil Soup with Minted Eggplant

It’s shopping day. Come along with me to the Brunswick Market, not many Melburnians know about it. The uninviting blue concrete facade gives no hint of the treasure hidden within. I’ll lead the way, just follow me down through the windowless cavern, past the Turkish Kebab place on the left ( try to resist their big bowl of red lentil soup or the eggy Shanklish ) and the Iraqi Barber on the right, the one favoured by Mr T for $15 haircuts. In the centre of the hall is an open sided cafe, whose owner set up about 18 months ago. She is now doing well. Her gozleme are as soft as fresh lasagne, stuffed with intense green spinach, and receives my ‘Best Gozleme in Melbourne’ award. We’ll grab one on the way out. She makes other savoury pastries, including potato and onion Borek and Simit, as well cakes filled with almond meal and nuts. There are many other specialty stalls here: a shoe shop and repair business run by a Greek man, a mobile phone fixit guy, run by a Chinese man, a clothing alteration store, a Turkish CD shop, just in case you fancy a bit of belly dancing on the way through, and a clothing store selling nazar boncuÄźu, those lucky blue eye amulets, hijabs, colourful scarves and outrageous silver embossed leggings.

Shoe repairs, a skill worth preserving.

Here we are at the food section. In the centre is a large Turkish deli, specialising in all sorts of yoghurt, brined cheeses, grains, pulses and condiments such as Pekmez and Biber Salçası. Further along is the Vietnamese fish shop. They also manage supplies for hotels and restaurants so you can order anything you fancy. The fish here is sparkling fresh and they know the source of all species on offer. Ask the lovely woman from Hanoi to shuck six Tasmanian oysters for you then devour them on the spot. Over from the Vietnamese fish shop is the Italian butcher, with his sign, Vendiamo Capretti ( we sell young goat). His pork sausages, full of fennel, chilli and spice, are the best in Melbourne according to my carnivore sons.

Vendiamo Capretti. Baby goats for sale in Italian, Greek and English.

Until recently, there was a Halal butcher shop and a free range chicken shop but both have recently closed. A sign of things to come? Finally we get to Russell’s fruit shop, owned by Turks but staffed by Nepalese and Indians. It’s the busy end of the market where you can find the things that never turn up in supermarkets: knobbly yellow quinces, tables full of cheap pomegranates, ready to split and reveal their bijoux, piles of red peppers, shiny and irregularly shaped, curly cucumbers, every kind of bean- Roman, Snake, Borlotti, lime coloured Turkish snake peppers grown in Mildura, rows of eggplants, long, short, miniature and striped. It’s the antithesis of a modern supermarket.

The Brunswick Market. Every kind of bean.

Part of this walk involves chatting. While buying red lentils at the Turkish deli, I’ve nodded politely as two ladies gave me their different versions of the best way to make Mercimek Köftesi, or red lentil kofte. I once went halves in a kilo of filleted Western Australian sardines at the fish shop. An Egyptian woman told me in detail how she would cook her half. People love to talk about food here. You will also be recognised and remembered. And the hipsters of Brunswick? They mostly avoid the place. I wonder why?

Red Lentil Soup with Minted Eggplant is based on a recipe by Leanne Kitchen. The original recipe ( see below) makes a truck load. I halved the quantities and still had enough for 6 bowls. I also lessened the salt, added 2 tablespoons of Biber Salçası ( Justin Bieber in a jar) and kept the amount of garlic. The original is pale in colour. With the added Biber paste, the soup looks more vivid. Eggplants are now in season, and red lentils are one of my favourite budget foods. Eat well for less.

Red Lentil soup with minted eggplant.

Ingredients

  • 150 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 625 g red lentils
  • 2.5 litres chicken or light vegetable stock
  • 60 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 500 g eggplant ( about 1 large) cut into 1 cm pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 teaspoons dried mint
  • 2/½ teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped, to serve.

Method

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 6-7 minutes or until softened but not brown. Add the lentils and stock, then bring to a simmer, skimming the surface to remove any impurities. Add the Biber Salçası if using. Reduce heat to low, partially cover the pan, and simmer for 40-50 minutes. Add the lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Meanwhile sprinkle the salt over the chopped eggplant in a colander and set aside for 20 minutes. Rinse the eggplant, then drain and pat dry. Heat the remaining oil in a large, heavy based frying pan over medium high heat. Ass the eggplant and cook for 6 minutes turning often, until golden and tender. Ass the garlic and cook for 2 minutes then add the dried mint and paprika and cook for another minute or until fragrant.

To serve, divide the soup among the bowls and spoon over the eggplant mixture and scatter with the fresh mint.

Recipe by Leanne Kitchen. Turkey. Recipes and tales from the road. Murdoch Books Pty Ltd 2011.

Turkish red lentil soup with minted eggplant.

Brunswick Market, 655 Sydney Road, Brunswick. Let’s hope this market survives as the sweep of gentrification and apartment wonderland takes over the inner city.

Silver Beet Paneer: Curry for a Cold Snap

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have been forced back indoors. Today, at the height of Spring, a cold front blew in and the temperature plummeted to 8.5 celsius. That’s Melbourne for you.

Yesterday afternoon was a different story. I felt like Mortisha in my Melbourne black: the hot sun beat down on my layered clothing, making the post- prandial walk quite uncomfortable. For those readers who live anywhere in the world but Melbourne, I should mention that Melbournians favour black dressing.

We had lunched at the Woodlands Hotel, a quirky hotel with an unusual menu, in Sydney Road, Coburg. We were merrily celebrating a birthday and enjoying a post- Bali get together when I noticed Madame Rosalie’s curry, a play on that Indian classic, Muttar Paneer, only substituting silverbeet and broad beans for the peas. What a brilliant idea! These seasonal vegetables have reached plague proportions in my garden. Today I’m making a silver beet Paneer curry, then next week, the Muttar Paneer, substituting broad beans for regular peas, using the same curry base as below.

Silverbeet Paneer

Ingredients.

  • A big bunch of young silver beet
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or ghee
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 120 ml thickened cream, (or whey from paneer or yoghurt making, as well as some cream)
  • 200gr paneer, cut into 2cm square cubes, either purchased or homemade.

Method.

Strip leaves from silver beet and add to a large pan, and add a little water. (Use stalks for another recipe). Cook quickly until the leaves are wilted but still vibrant looking. Drain, and squeeze out as much moisture as you can.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Meanwhile in a heavy based pot, heat oil or ghee, then add onion, garlic and ginger and cook until the onion has softened. Add the chopped tomato, and spices (except garam masala) . Stir for 30 seconds, then add a little whey or cream to loosen. Add the silver beet leaves, salt and sugar, and the rest of the cream.  Cook on low heat for a few minutes, stirring. When cooler, use an immersion blender and puree the mixture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReturn to the stove, heat gently, then add the chopped paneer and the garam masala. Swirl through a little more cream when serving.

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This dish is ample for four, with rice, assuming that there is another dish, such as dhal or another curry, and raita.

Just like the cucina povera of Italy, Indian food costs little to make. The ingredients came from the garden or the pantry.  The blow out was the purchased paneer.  Next time, I’ll make my own.

Footnote: this tastes even better the next day!

 

Turkish Red Lentil ‘Bride’ Soup.

ottoman designs
ottoman designs

I first tried this nourishing soup a few years ago in Brunswick, near Melbourne. A young Turkish woman opened a small lunchtime cafe in the middle of an empty space in the Brunswick Market. She cooked her grandmother’s food from memory; it was cheap, sustaining and delicious. Her little restaurant didn’t survive, given its location inside a dingy arcade. Every now and then I see her around the streets of Brunswick and I feel like running up to tell her how much I loved her soup.  She served it in big deep bowls with a small pourer of white vinegar and a separate little saucer of dried chilli flakes on the side, along with fluffy Turkish pide, toasted in a flat sandwich maker. I have been making versions of this soup ever since then, trying to replicate her flavours and texture. It is so cheap and nourishing, you could live on it. The key to the ‘bridal’ quality of this soup is the butter. You could ‘veganise’ the recipe, but it wouldn’t taste as good.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I am indebted to Patricia Solley’s Soupsong for this close version to the real thing, to which I have made slight adjustments.

Turkish Red Lentil Bride soup –  Ezo Gelin Çorbasi

  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 cup red lentils, washed and picked over
  • 1/2 cup fine bulgur wheat
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste, or Biber Salcasi ( red pepper paste)
  • 8 cups vegetable stock, or water and 2 stock cubes ( use chicken stock if you prefer)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or dried red chilli flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon dried mint leaves, crumbled
  • Traditional Garnish: lemon slices, or vinegar and chilli flakes, mint.  Inauthentic garnish, yoghurt, mint leaves and chilli flakes.

Heat the butter in a large saucepan and saute the onions over low heat until they are golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in the paprika, then the lentils and bulgur to coat them in the butter. Add the tomato paste or red pepper paste ( or Biber Salcasi), the  stock and hot chilli, then bring to a boil.  Reduce to very low simmer and cook until soft and creamy, for about an hour. ( You may need a simmer mat for this and check that it doesn’t stick). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA When ready to serve, tear the fresh mint into the soup or crumble in the dried mint. Stir, remove from heat for 10 minutes, covered, then ladle the soup into large serving bowls, serving with lemon wedges and extra mint on the side. Great with warm or toasted Turkish Pide. It’s a meal!

Turkish Bridal Soup
Turkish Bridal Soup

“The origin of this rich Turkish soup is attributed to an astonishingly beautiful girl born in 1909 in the village of Dokuzyol, located on ancient caravan routes in the Barak plain. Ezo had red cheeks and black hair and was adored by camel riders who stopped by her house for water. Her story ends badly, though–her first marriage to a villager was unhappy and she was permitted to forsake him on grounds of maltreatment. Her second marriage took her to Syria and a mother-in-law who couldn’t be pleased…and for whom, it is said, she haplessly created this soup. Ezo died of tuberculosis in Syria in 1952, but in the interim had become a legend in her native land in both folksong and film. Her name lives on in this very popular, stick-to-the-ribs soup–which is now traditionally fed to new brides, right before their wedding, to sustain them for what lies ahead.”

Patricia Solley, An Exultation of Soups.

The bridal shops of Sydney Road, Brunswick, are notorious. Some specialise in elegance.
The bridal shops of Sydney Road, Brunswick, are notorious. Some specialise in elegance.
And others do amazing bridal kitsch.
And others do amazing bridal kitsch.