Soup Bagdad is a warm and rich lentil-and-lamb soup punched up with a heavy hand of fresh herbs. Despite the long simmer time this is still a tractable weeknight meal, and requires very little chopping or active time. It’s also plenty hearty for a weekend meal. This recipe comes to me by way of Smart Shopper’s Cookbook, a 1972 cookbook by former Betty Crocker Kitchens manager Loyta Wooding. Neither the cookbook nor its author are particularly well-known, but I’ve found this to be the gift that keeps on giving. Ostensibly written for the budget-conscious homemaker, it’s packed with hundreds of satisfying and often unconventional recipes. They’re not all winners, but Mrs. Wooding certainly knows her way around the kitchen.
Soup Bagdad is not one of Mrs. Wooding’s more inventive recipes, but the pairing of lamb and lentils seemed intriguing. Instead of lamb shoulder or stew meat it relies on simple pan-fried lamb meatballs. The meatballs are added to a thick lentil stew with a tomato base, along with a handful of macaroni. But the real kicker is the giant handful of fresh dill, which give the soup its character. I suspect that this soup bears no resemblance to any traditional Iraqi dish; call it “Dilled Lamb and Lentil Soup” if you’re fussy about those kinds of things. It’s still delicious.
My family quite enjoyed this, and found it particularly soothing on a cold, rainy autumn evening. The meatballs were the real treat, with the kids all making sure they got their fair share. We all agreed that the pasta was superfluous, and when I make this again I’ll certainly leave it out. The recipe calls for so little pasta that it’s hard to understand why it was included in the first place. Soup Bagdad already has the contrasting textures of the lentils and meatballs; the pasta just muddies the waters.
Serve Soup Bagdad with the archetypal crusty loaf of bread, and perhaps a cucumber salad. This may also work well as a starter course or accompaniment for a Mediterranean-inspired meal. And plan for leftovers: the original recipe says “six servings” but this makes a full gallon of soup and could easily feed ten people. Leftovers reheat well and the flavors actually improve with a few days in the fridge. This is still not my favorite lentil soup, but is enough different that it will likely find a regular place in my repertoire. Enjoy!
- 2 sweet onions (finely chopped)
- 1 lb brown lentils
- 2 ½ quarts cold water
- 1 ½ tbsp salt (divided)
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (divided)
- 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 2-3 tbsp chopped fresh dill
- 1 tsp chopped garlic
- 1-2 tbsp chopped celery leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 lb ground lamb
- ¼ cup elbow macaroni (optional)
- Rinse and sort lentils.
- Add 6 tbsp of olive oil to a large enameled Dutch oven over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onions. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and have given off some of their liquid. Take care not to brown the onions.
- Add water, lentils, 1 tbsp of salt, ¼ tsp of black pepper, tomatoes, dill, garlic, celery leaves, and the bay leaf to the pot. Stir well. Bring to a boil, then simmer (covered) for 60-90 minutes.
- When the lentils are nearly cooked, combine lamb with remaining ½ tbsp of salt and ¼ tsp of pepper. Roll into small meatballs, about ¾ inch diameter. You should get 20-30 meatballs from a pound of meat.
- In a separate cast iron skillet heat the remaining two tbsp of oil. Roll the meatballs in flour and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes total.
- Add the meatballs to the soup along with the macaroni. Heat (covered) for 20 minutes more until macaroni is cooked. Serve immediately.