A few days ago, my friend Ayten in Baku posted a video from Tajikistan on her social media – she is moving to the country because she was offered a head position in a reputable organization there (so proud of my girlfriends!). I commented that Tajikistan was one of the countries I’d love to visit one day. And it is true. In fact, the entire Central Asian geography fascinates me, with its rich history and traditions, and, of course, food, which is particularly appealing to me, just like the food of Iran. Yogurt, legumes, fresh vegetables and herbs, fruits of all kinds – these are abundant in Central Asian cuisines, and I love it.
Our virtual conversation with Ayten prompted me to cook something from the Tajik cuisine. And I had the perfect book for that – the recently published Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia & the Caucasus, filled with delicious recipes from the region. I chose to make Tajik Green Lentil and Rice Soup.
In this hearty soup, lentils and rice are cooked with lots of vegetables, including onion, celery, carrot, tomatoes, and garlic, and the broth is spiced with cumin seeds and allspice. The spices turned to be the real gist of the soup – they gave it a subtle exotic twist, while pairing perfectly with other ingredients. Lots of fresh aromatic herbs and dollops of fresh, creamy goat cheese stirred into the soup made it even tastier! I loved it. As I enjoyed my bowl of steaming deliciousness with freshly baked crusty bread, in my imagination, I drifted far away, to Tajikistan, where I sat around the table with locals, sampling away many more traditional Tajik dishes (always a glutton!) and sharing laughter and friendship. I “woke” up to get a second serving of the soup because it was just too good. Oh, my wild imagination. But one day it may happen. One day. Destination – Tajikistan.
- About ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
- 4 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ cup green or brown lentils, washed
- ¼ cup brown rice, washed
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 cups or more as needed hot vegetable stock or water
- Salt and ground black pepper
- ½ cup goat cheese (can substitute Greek yogurt or plain yogurt)
- A handful of chopped fresh herbs – parsley, cilantro, mint
- Squeeze or lemon
- Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add in the onion, celery, carrot, and tomato, and cook until softened.
- Add the garlic, cumin seeds, and allspice. Cook for another minute, then stir in the lentils, rice, and bay leaves.
- Pour in the vegetable stock or water. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and cover the pan. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes until the rice and lentils are tender.
- Stir in the fresh herbs for the final 5 minutes of cooking.
- Remove from the heat and, if desired, pour in some lemon juice. If the soup is too thick, loosen it with some boiling water.
- Ladle into serving bowls. Crumble in the cheese and serve.