I have a dried-fruit problem.
The problem is that I love it so much, I can't have much around or I'll start nibbling, and a snack becomes a mini-meal.
Not the end of the world. But dried fruit is a pretty great ingredient in lots of dishes, from smoothies, salads and rice pilafs to dips, sauces and stews (especially tagines, the Moroccan slow-cooked dish that often includes prunes or dried apricots). And if I've already snacked it to oblivion, I won't have it around when I need it.
I've discovered a coping strategy. Rather than buy the beautiful, vibrantly colored sulfur-treated fruits, I stick with the unsulfured versions, which taste fine but, particularly in the case of apricots, don't look nearly as appealing.
That leaves them free to be used in such recipes as a terrific Armenian soup that caught my eye in the wonderful "Samarkand: Recipes & Stories from Central Asia & the Caucasus" by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford. The two tell how apricots feature in so many dishes of the region, including this soup, which uses them to brighten up the earthy flavors of lentils.
I was a little skeptical that a mere half-cup of dried apricots could add that much flavor to what becomes 8 cups of soup, but boy, was I wrong, and happy about it. The almost-floral tang of the fruit - enhanced with a generous squeeze of lemon - is unmistakable, and it liberates the soup from winter heaviness and turns it into something I can imagine cooking and eating year-round.
The brown color of those unsulfured apricots, by the way, doesn't hurt the soup's look one bit; red lentils and carrots more than make up for it. If you're stronger than I, though, and have some of the bright orange specimens on hand, it'll be even prettier.
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Apricot and Red Lentil Soup
4 to 6 servings (makes 8 cups)
Dried apricots give a wonderfully bright flavor to this simple, surprising soup, which has roots in Armenia.
Adapted from "Samarkand: Recipes & Stories From Central Asia & the Caucasus," by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford (Kyle Books, 2016).
4 medium tomatoes (1 1/4 pounds)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (2 1/2 cups)
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch pieces (1 1/2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon cumin seed
2/3 cup dried split red lentils
4 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth, warmed
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for serving
Hull and halve the tomatoes. Use the large-holed side of a box grater to grate the tomato halves, cut sides down, over a bowl until nothing is left but the skins. Discard the skins.
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften and turn sweet, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic, apricots and cumin seed; cook until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato pulp and cook for a few minutes.
Add the lentils, pour in the broth and increase the heat to medium-high. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low so the liquid is barely bubbling. Cover and cook until the lentils are tender, 20 minutes.
Stir in the thyme leaves and lemon juice, then remove from the heat.
Use an immersion (stick) blender to blend about half the soup in the pot, leaving the rest to give the soup texture. (Alternatively, you can transfer half the soup to a blender, puree, and return it to the pot.) Add the salt and pepper, taste, and add more as needed.
Divide the soup among bowls, top with the parsley and serve hot.
Nutrition: Per serving (based on 6): 240 calories, 8 g protein, 37 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 7 g dietary fiber, 16 g sugar