sumac and herb soup

a bowl of sumac and herb soup

On the first day of spring, this bowl of sumac and herb soup heralds new beginnings. It’s not a “warm your toes by the fire soup”, all rich and velvety like a butternut squash soup. This is sharp (sumac) and fresh (herbs) with layers of flavour (freekeh) and substance (lentils) which will have you rightly reminding the root vegetables in your kitchen that their days are over (for a bit at least). If your pots of mint, parsley and chives are just beginning to show some leaf after the cold wet winter, trim their first flush for this soup. Broad leaf sorrel? Even better, soft leafed herbs rather than woody ones are what you need. No stock required, this is light and fresh, it says “spring is here!”

Having tasted this soup made by an Iranian friend, we then found a recipe by an Iranian food blogger, called Azita Mehran @turmericandsaffron. In Iran, as in Lebanon, herbs are not used as garnishes, they are key ingredients. So look out for Turkish, Kurdish or Indian shops where you’ll find bunches of herbs at a much more reasonable price than those shoved unceremoniously into supermarket plastic bags. Wrapped in a clean dishcloth, they’ll last much longer in your fridge than in a plastic bag. If you’re lucky enough to have some pots of herbs in your garden, the soup will taste even better. 

The other key ingredient is sumac. Here it’s used in abundance – not as a seasoning. The sumac, a spice as much loved in Lebanon as in Iran, is soaked in water for an hour to impart its naturally lemony taste. An antioxidant, sumac‘s citrusy taste is what lifts the lentils. We added Palestinian freekeh, for its smokey taste and nutty texture, but rice is equally good. The combination of lentils with rice or freekeh makes a complete protein, handy if you’re trying to reduce your meat consumption. Since it is an Iranian recipe, we added Zejd’s saffron, instead of turmeric, to the soft onions, garlic and dried mint. It added another note of 



3 tbsps of Zejd’s sumac, soaked in 200ml of cool water for an hour
140g freekeh or rice, rinsed
115g lentils, rinsed
25g flat leaf parsley, leaves picked off stems and chopped
25g coriander, leaves picked off stems and chopped
25g chives or the green part of spring onions, chopped
few sprigs of mint, leaves picked off stems and chopped, 
salt and pepper to taste


1 large onion, sliced finely
4 cloves of garlic, crushed with a bit of salt
1/2 tbsp of dried mint
1/4 Zejd’s saffron, crushed and left to infuse in a tablespoon of hot water for 10 minutes 
3 tbsps Zejd’s extra virgin olive oil


  1. In a bowl, add the sumac and the water, and stir. Set aside for an hour to infuse.
  2. Put the rice or freekeh into a large saucepan, add 750ml of water, cover and bring to the boil on a medium high heat. Lower the heat and leave to simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  3. Pour in the lentils, stir well, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Add 250ml of boiling water half way through. 
  4. While this is cooking, add the extra virgin olive oil to a frying pan and heat over a medium flame. Add the onions and cook until golden. This will take around 10 minutes. Then add the garlic, the saffron with its liquid and the dried mint stirring well. Continue to fry gently for 5 minutes.
  5. Once the lentils have cooked for 30 minutes with the rice/freekeh, stir in the chopped herb. Taste and add some salt and pepper. Leave to simmer on a low heat for 5 minutes. 
  6. Now add the sumac to the soup. If you like you can strain the sumac from the liquid with a fine mesh sieve, but we added both liquid and sumac. Stir and leave to cook for 10 minutes. The soup should be fairly thick, but add some boiling water if you feel there’s not enough liquid. Taste and adjust the seasoning. 
  7. Divide up the fried onions, adding some to the soup and stir well. When you’re ready to eat, ladle the soup into bowls, and add a little of the topping to each, along with some more sumac and any remaining extra herbs. 

If there are leftovers the next day, and the liquid has been absorbed, serve as a cold salad, with some yoghurt mixed with crushed garlic and sumac on top. 

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