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It was a rather kooky wrap up to the workweek this week.  But not at all surprising given it’s my company’s end of fiscal year at the end of June.  Combine that with the 4th of July falling smack in the middle of next week, most everyone plans to get the hell out of town the entire week, plus a weekend on either side.  So lots of scrambling.

Today was spent doing a lot of maintenance in preparation for the upcoming “holiday” week.  I’ll have more on that tomorrow.  I dug deep in my pantry before setting out to run errands looking for yet another new soup recipe, in an older cookbook I haven’t opened in a while.

Yes, I use part of my pantry for cookbook storage.  Someday I will have my dream kitchen with a built-in bookshelf of sorts to hold my cherished cookbooks.  For now they are both in the upper shelves of my pantry and in a portion of a kitchen countertop.

I knew I wanted to whip up a hot and spicy batch of soup today.  We’re still in that icky, rainy, cloudy, chilly-but-sometimes-humid lame-o Seattle weather which is so typical for late June.  Psst:  are you planning to visit Seattle?  We are most welcome to have you at any time…but you’ll be far happier doing it in late July than right now – for real!

So I blew the dust off another cookbook I hadn’t thumbed through in a while:  Mediterranean Hot.  It’s by Aglaia Kremezi.  Wow, this book was published in 1996!  It’s so clear how somewhat dated a book like this is – for example, in the mail-order resources section there are no websites posted – just the names of merchants and their phone numbers.  How the times change!

The recipes, however, are timeless.  They go far, far back in time – some even for centuries, even.  The author provides a wonderful introduction to this book describing the peoples of the Mediterranean region, the seasonings and spices and how pretty much WARS WERE FOUGHT over spices.  Fascinating!

I chose a North African style of soup for tonight’s experiment, and noted how far less chopping and prep time would be needed compared to the other soups I’ve prepared these past few weeks.  There were a few things I took liberty with right off the bat, for both planned and unplanned reasons.  Read on for more.

Spicy North African Soup with Capers – Serves 6

  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly ground coriander seeds
  • 1 T freshly ground caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp Harissa
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1/4 C fine Semolina flour
  • 1/3 C coarse bulgur
  • 3-4 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 C capers preserved in salt, rinsed very well under running water
  • 1 preserved lemon with Hot Paprika, rinsed and cut into fine julienne (more on this at the end of this post – it’s optional and I did not use it)
  • Salt, to taste
  • 4 T chopped cilantro or parsley

Mix the olive oil with the garlic, coriander, caraway, harissa and Aleppo pepper (or pepper flakes) in a saucepan.  Place over medium heat and stir to warm, without letting anything burn.  Add the tomato paste and 4-5 cups of water.

Bring to a boil and add the semolina and bulgur, stirring constantly.  Simmer for 10 minutes and then add the lemon juice, capers and preserved lemon.  Taste and season with salt if desired or some more preserved lemon.

Serve very warm, sprinkled with cilantro or parsley.

Fivenineteen notes: The aroma of this soup is heavenly…and SO different from the South American-style soups I’ve been cooking lately.  The coriander seeds and caraway seeds add a unique, punchy scent to this soup.  [Side note:  at risk of sounding like a broken record…PLEASE do the “smell test” with your spices to make sure they are fresh and pungent before adding to this or any recipe.  The scent of my just-purchased coriander and caraway is heads and shoulders above the lame blandness my older jars had.]

I did not have any Aleppo pepper or Harissa on hand.  I since have ordered some thanks to the nice people at Dean & Deluca. Red pepper flakes are an easy sub for Aleppo pepper, but the Harissa recipe (hot Tunisian chile paste) seemed a bit more involved.  I searched online and learned that an ordinary chile paste was a good substitute.

Although I discovered the lone paste I had on hand was a Thai red curry paste.  Oops.  I was a little worried about that when I got home…and I discovered this while the soup was under way and I was a bit into a large glass of Pinot Gris (heh), so I knew heading back out to grab chile paste at a grocery store was not a good idea. It turned out great with no major flavor conflicts!

Semolina flour:  this is the base for your handmade or machine-made pastas.  Lessons learned – I would add this very gradually while whisking it constantly into the soup instead of dumping it all in at once and then the bulgur on top and then attempting to mix.  The Semolina became very lumpy immediately (hmm, just like when making gravy?) and it was super hard to whisk and separate into the broth after the fact.

This is a vegetarian soup.  I opted to not make it 100% vegetarian by substituting one of the 5 cups of water with a cup of chicken stock.

Enjoy…buon appetito!  And if you are still curious about the preserved lemon recipe (as I am I – I’ve yet to try it), here it is:

Preserved Lemons with Hot Paprika – makes 1 Quart

  • 1 1/2 lbs small lemons
  • about 1/4 C coarse sea salt
  • 2-3 T hot paprika, preferably Hungarian
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • Juice of 4-5 lemons
  • About 1/3 C olive oil

With a very sharp knife, cut the lemons into quarters lengthwise without detaching the pieces completely at the stem end.  Sprinkle salt and a little paprika inside each lemon and place in a 1-quart jar.  Press down on the lemons to fit as many in the jar as possible.  Refrigerate 2-3 days.  The lemons will give off a lot of juice.

Press the lemons in the jar to extract as much juice as possible.  Sprinkle with the turmeric and add more lemon juice to cover the lemons.  Top with 1 inch of olive oil, close the jar, and keep in the refrigerator for 4 weeks until using.

To use, remove the lemons you need, wash under running water, drizzle with olive oil and serve or use as you wish.