Red lentil soup with harissa croutons

RedLentilSoupTitle © J Horak-Druiff 2013

“Life is a rollercoaster” warbled Ronan Keating – and despite not being a fan of boybands, and looking back at the past 10 days here at Cooksister HQ, I have to say that I think he had a point.  The Big Thunder Mountain experience started with a plunge into discovering that somebody I know is saying some pretty slanderous things about me behind my back. Of course, these things are not meant to have reached my ears, and I without implicating those who brought them to my attention, I can’t even openly confront or rebut them.  It’s a surprisingly disempowering and enraging experience – and not one I would recommend. I keep reminding myself that the way in which I conduct my online and offline life constitutes its own rebuttal – those who have spent any time observing me will know this.  But my faith in even this conviction had been shaken.

Then the rollercoaster sped up to a crest again as I prepared for the London Food Photography & Styling Workshop and a visit from my sister-from-another-mother Meeta.  For me, teaching is always such an uplifting and energising experience, and together with all the laughs I shared with Meeta, my spirits and the gloom of the previous days lifted.  And then of course, this week the rollercoaster plunged again watching unthinkably tragic events unfold in South Africa, which have upset and unsettled me more than I could have imagined.  Despite avoiding as much of the unseemly, vicious media circus coverage as possible, I am bombarded with it every day and I am constantly asked what I think about the case, as if being South African somehow means I can provide a rational explanation for everything that is going on. I am devastated anew every day by the loss of a young and innocent life; the loss of a national icon; our eagerness to tear down those we idolised only months before; and our contempt for the presumption of innocence (something which, as  lawyer, I have always believed in wholeheartedly).  But most of all I am appalled at the media coverage, where it seems you can make up any story you want, print it and when it is proved to be untrue, you don’t retract it but leave it hanging in the air like a bad smell, just waiting to be Googled out of context by somebody who then thinks they know the “facts”.  There is nothing edifying in any of this, and no possible good outcome for anybody concerned, and it weighs inexplicably heavily on my heart.


NiamhBookDiptych © J Horak-Druiff 2013


I was desperately in need of comfort on the night I reached for Comfort and Spice, a handsome cookbook written by my friend Niamh Shields back in (gulp!) 2011.  At the time, she invited me to one of her launch events together with Denise, Ailbhe, Sig, Liz, Dan and others, where she cooked up a storm, mostly from the book: superb bacon-infused vodka Bloody Marys; bacon jam (yeah, baby!); blaas (a yeasted Irish bread); potato pancakes topped with smoked salmon and cucumber relish; and then the piece de resistance: overnight-cooked pork shoulder covered in sublime crackling and served with a spiced apple relish. I have been meaning to write about the launch ever since but it seemed silly to do so 18 months after the fact – but here is my Flickr album of photos of the Comfort & Spice dinner, including some very silly shots of us hiding behind our books 😉


NiamhBook2 © J Horak-Druiff 2013


NiamhBook3 © J Horak-Druiff 2013


Rather than the traditional sections, the book is divided into chapters including Brunch, Speedy Suppers, Long Weekend, and Sugar & Spice. Recipes are written in Niamh’s trademark conversational style and reading the recipes is rather like chatting to her in person.  All the recipes are easy to follow (she even makes homemade cheese seem achievable!) and packed with flavour.  As anybody who reads her blog would expect, there are many recipes featuring pork in all its wonderful forms, as well as some Irish-inspired dishes – but generally the book meanders happily through world cuisine, stopping in here and there to try something delicious – from pumpkin gnocchi, to pork belly dumplings, to lamb samoosas, to Vietnamese summer rolls.  And the chatty writing style means it is the kind of book that you could curl up on the sofa and read, rather than treating it only as a reference book for cooking. My only niggle is that if you are cooking from the book, it is  impossible to get it to lie open on a kitchen counter unless you break the spine – but this is a common problem with softcover recipe books. If you like personable writing and achievable recipes that will impress your friends without chaining you to the kitchen, this is the book for you.


HarissaCroutons © J Horak-Druiff 2013


The recipe I chose was a soothing and comforting red lentil soup, both because it seemed to be packed with the flavours I love but also because it takes almost no time to prepare.  Red lentils are sold without their husks, meaning they contain less fibre than their green or brown lentil cousins, but they cook much faster and break down more easily – perfect for soup.  The Harissa croutons were a revelation – crispy, spicy and decidedly moreish.  Make sure your guests don’t nick them all in the kitchen while you are still stirring the soup! The only changes I made to Niamh’s recipe were the use of a red instead of a green chilli, and a quick whizz with an immersion blender to break up the spinach leaves before serving.  If you are feeling in need of comfort (and a little bit of spice!) I can’t recommend this soup highly enough.

More bloggers cooking with lentils:


RedLentilSoup2 © J Horak-Druiff 2013


DISCLOSURE:  I received a free copy of the book for review purposes but received no other remuneration to write this post and all opinions are my own.


4.7 from 3 reviews
Red lentil soup with harissa croutons
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A warming, nearly fat-free soup that's packed with flavour. Perfect for chilly evenings.
Recipe type: Soup
Serves: 4
  • 1 Tbsp harissa paste
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt & black pepper
  • 100g bread, cubed
  • 1 Tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower/canola oil
  • 1 mild red chilli, chopped finely
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1.25 litres chicken or vegetable stock
  • 150g red lentils
  • 200g baby spinach leaves
  • fresh lemon juice
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150C. Mix the olive oil and harissa, add salt and pepper to taste, then toss the bread cubes in the mixture to coat. Spread the cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp, shaking the sheet a few times to ensure even crispness.
  2. Heat the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan untill aromatic (watch them as they burn easily), then crush to a powder with a pestle and mortar.
  3. Add the vegetable oil to a pan and saute the shallot for five minutes or so unti translucent but not browned. Add the cumin, chilli and garlic and cook for a further 30 seconds.
  4. Pour in the stock and add the lentils. Allow to simmer for 15 minutes or until the lentils break down. Stir in the spinach until wilted, give the soup a quick whizz with an immersion blender, then add a squeeze of lemon juice.
  5. Serve hot, topped with the harissa croutons.


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  1. says

    I’m so sorry to hear that anyone is saying nasty things about you. :-( You are right, anyone who follows your work and online interactions won’t believe a word they say. But I know how disconcerting and hurtful it is. Know that there are way more of us who love and respect you. The baddies will get their comeuppance. XO

  2. says

    Hi Jeanne! Sorry to hear about that awful person. It is horrible and hard to ignore I know, but you must. I totally agree about Pistorious. It all seems so insane, especially with the twists today. Finally, thank you for the kind words and bringing back such happy memories. It means a lot to me that you enjoy the book xxx

  3. says

    So so SO sad to have missed the workshop. It would have been amazing to hang out with you all, I guess that selling all of my things and running away to India has it’s downsides!

    I’ve been talking with some friends here about a similar situation I was in last summer. We were on holiday, meanwhile, someone who we had invited into our home was slandering us to our friends and even our family… I felt completely powerless, hurt and worried and being in another country from the situation just magnified these feelings. Our friends stuck by us though and when we returned home they told me how silly I had been to believe that anything this person had said would affect our friendship.

    Everyone has darkness and lightness in them, it’s about balance and what you choose to do with it. Some people have a lot more darkness than others. If you can forgive the person who slandered you, the pain they caused will lessen. Cutting these people out doesn’t work (I’ve tried) because we still carry with us the negative memory of what they did. I am trying to forgive, but it still freaks me out a bit when I think about what she did!

    You and Meeta are people who I greatly admire, you are full of integrity and I am glad to call you both my friends. The people who matter do not believe slander – if they did, you probably wouldn’t have found out about it in the first place!

    Big hug XXXX

    • Jeanne says

      I did not grow up eating lentils, but have developed a total addiction to them as an adult! They are so versatile and such an amazing comfort food. The croutons are sinfully good, aren’t they?

  4. says

    “Somebody I know is saying some pretty slanderous things about me behind my back”

    This often says more about the person slandering, especially when they will not say it to your face” :)

    • Jeanne says

      Thanks for those words – I know on some level that this is true. People saying awful things are almost always revealing more about themselves than the subject of their insults. It’s just endlessly frustrating for a lawyer not to be able to openly make a rebuttal! ;o)

    • Jeanne says

      It seems we are taking it in turns…! Thanks for your kind thoughts – we need to meet for an evening of mutual cheering up (and bubbly wine!)!

  5. says

    It is almost like you did know, that just yesterday evening I decided to cook a dal with red lentils and was thinking that I should cook more red lentils dishes… your recipe is like being the answer :)

    And I wish you all the best for your current rollercoaster phase so that you do not get too dizzy!!

    • Jeanne says

      Aaah, great minds think alike :) If it weren’t for my husband who loves meat, I think I would eat almost exclusively lentils and chickpeas ;o) Do try the recipe – it is definitely going to be a regular in this house!

  6. says

    Life certainly has its ups and downs and that is when we really truly appreciate our friends who make us laugh out loud and bring tears to our eyes in more ways than one..hopefully it is from laughing uncontrollably. This does sound like a cookbook we would want in our collections.

    • Jeanne says

      That’s so true, Val – times like these make me value my true friends, the ones you can rely on without even thinking about it and whom you could trust with your life. You’d love the cookbook!

  7. says

    Gosh, you have had a week of ups and downs! Hope next week is all up Up UP!
    The photos look ace, I have the book but not cooked anything yet, must have another look at it again. I could dive in and eat those croutons right now!

    • Jeanne says

      I know – rollercoaster is not the word… Trying to keep this week on a more even keel (as far as that’s within my power!!). Glad you like the pics :)

  8. says

    Jeanne – the fact that you care so deeply about these issues, especially justice, reveals your true character – but it’s hard when these sort of things knock your confidence. There was never any doubt that the London workshop would be anything less than a triumph with such a fantastic combined team. Hope things look brighter.

    • Jeanne says

      Thanks, lovely lady, for your very kind words. I think the depths of my convictions sometimes surprise even me! But the entire “trial by media” circus really resonated with me last week, particularly in the wake of my own personal troubles. Anyhoo – the workshop was indeed a blast and you were sorely missed by both me and Meeta!

  9. says

    Love, love, love the soup! Can’t wait for cooler weather to try this! (I am so sorry to hear that someone is saying bad things about you behind your back, Jeanne. It is always hurtful. Hugs to you.)

    • Jeanne says

      Thanks, my friend, I appreciate the hugs. Really frustrates me that I cannot rebut of confront the issue head-on. But I hope that people who know me will tell the truth from the lies without any problem. And LOL – I agree, it’s not soup weather in SA at the moment, but save this recipe for June :)

  10. says

    Thinking about our conversations last week. I hope the weekend was a welcome break – it feels like a definite barrier between ‘then’ and ‘now’. Something has broken, something has cracked. But we must believe in the Cohen-eque wisdom that that’s how the light gets in. I’m so sorry that someone has wasted precious time, to spread untruths. It’s hurtful – feck ’em, head up and keep living your fabulous, full, real life. Lots of love xx P.s must get a copy of N’s book.

    • Jeanne says

      Really appreciated our chat last week – it was such a low point for me, for the whole country, really. Better this week – refusing to read all the non-news and all the mudslinging!! I am hoping karma will bite the slanderous person in the butt – it can take a while but it usually happens in the end 😉 Thanks for your wise words xx

  11. says

    Harissa croutons!!! Yes please, what a wonderful way to liven up lentil soup, which I also love. My mum’s lentil soup being the best soup ever, we’ll I think so anyway. So for me lentil soup is the ultimate comfort food. It’s could well be the first soup as soon as this endless summer decides to move on.