In my tiny cafe, we served up sixteen fresh salads, three soups and a daily special every day as well as homemade condiments. We made everything fresh from whole foods, so as you can imagine, we had to move pretty quickly. Mornings in the cafe were not the time to meditate on seasonings — so I developed templates for myself.
I had two soup templates — puréed soups, for which I relied on my pot and my VitaMix, and chunky soups, which needed only a pot and now my Instant Pot. This recipe is one of the latter, although I never made it in the Cafe. I just created it now from what I happened to have in my refrigerator.
My chunky soups almost all began the same way: I prepared my beans to barely al denté (oh my gosh, the IP changed my world of beans) and set them aside. The exception to this process was lentils, which I added after the initial veggie saute. I filled the bottom of a very large soup pot with extra virgin olive oil and sautéed lots of chopped onion and garlic in it. Sometimes I added petite diced carrots and celery to that. Then I added water sufficient for the soup (along with lentils if I was using those). Sometimes the cooking liquid included petite diced tomatoes, either fresh or canned, sometimes a little tomato paste, sometimes tomatoes and tomato paste, sometimes none of those, just broth. The water with the sautéed onions, garlic, carrot and celery made was a lovely broth base for anything else I might add — and now, if I want to get really fancy with extra layers of flavor, I can add an IP broth from veggie “waste” if I happen to have some on hand. I added beans back into the pot close to the end of cooking time.
My basic Middle Eastern seasoning set was 3:3:1 — Salt:Cumin:Hot Paprika, that is, the same amount of salt as cumin and one-third as much hot paprika. For a three gallon pot, that would be three tablespoons of salt, three tablespoons of cumin and 1 tablespoon of hot paprika. Of course, I always used a little less than the template so I could adjust for variations in how the soup mingled with the seasonings — and I often added a variety of other typical Middle Eastern seasonings for more textured flavors. These included fresh ginger root, crushed coriander, harif (Arabic: harissa), fresh mint and more. And of course lemon, which brightens everything.
So that was how this veggie soup came about. I wanted lunch from my Instant Pot today so took an inventory of my ‘fridge and found that in addition to the standard veggies I always have in the house, onions, carrots, and a little red bell pepper, I had some grape tomatoes, a head of cauliflower and redskin potatoes. Here’s what happened with that:
INSTANT POT VEGGIE SOUP MIDDLE EASTERN STYLE
- Onion, one large, finely chopped
- Garlic, two large cloves, minced
- Carrots, 1-2, petite diced
- Celery, 1-2 stalks, petite diced
- Water, 6 cups
- Tomato paste, 1/4 cup
- Red lentils, one scant cup
- Grape tomatoes, 1/2 pint, cut in half
- Red bell pepper, 1/2 large pepper, petite diced
- Redskin potatoes with skin, 2 large, scrubbed, chunked
- Cauliflower, about 1/2 head, cut into flowerets
- Salt, 2 tsp.
- Cumin, 2 tsp.
- Powdered harissa, 2/3 tsp.*
- Cilantro or parsley, chopped, for garnish
* A word about the harissa: I prefer my own freshly made harif/harissa but didn’t happen to have any made. I had this powdered version in my cabinet and thought I might try it. It added a subtle Middle Eastern flavor but barely any heat I could detect — that was great for my husband, not so much for me. In the absence of the fresh harif another time, I would probably opt for something a little stronger like hot paprika or crushed red pepper.
- Add olive oil to Instant Pot and turn IP to Saute.
- Add garlic, onion, celery and carrots and saute for 5-7 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato paste, then add 6 cups (1-1/2 quarts) water, the red lentils, and mix all well. Let continue on Saute for a moment or two to start heating the water.
- Cancel Saute. Place the lid on the pot, seal, close the vent and set to High Pressure for 30 minutes.
- Do a Quick Release, and remove the lid.
- Add all seasonings (hold the cilantro or parsley) and the tomatoes, red bell pepper, potatoes and cauliflower.
- Place the lid back on the pot, seal, close the vent and set to High Pressure for 30 minutes.
- Do a Quick Release, and remove the lid. Check the texture to determine if it needs more pressure. This time was about right for me.
- Adjust the seasoning to taste. Add chopped cilantro or parsley.
I love red lentils. They have great flavor and texture, adding body and creaminess to soups — and they cook quickly. Have fun with this recipe, adding to the basics (garlic/onion/carrots/celery/red lentils) whatever veggies you happen to have on hand.
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