There are some dishes which have such big sentimental values for us that they sometimes feel heavy to cook, to eat, or even to serve for others. This soup is one of those dishes for me, and perhaps, the heaviest in my heart of all. It’s really delicious and whoever I served loved it. But for me, sometimes the memories pass beyond its great taste and turn it into something else, other than food… I hope you take the time and read the whole story..
The name of the soup is “Ezogelin”, it is a well-known soup from Turkish cuisine. The name translates as “Ezo the Bride”. The story goes that Ezo (short for her real name, Zöhre) is a legendary beauty from Southeastern city of Gaziantep in Turkey. At the age of 20, she gets married but this first marriage is short lived. After she goes back to her family, for 6 years, she does not marry again and in the meantime, she gets even more beautiful and gets many marriage proposals. Finally, she is forced to marry her cousin and has to move to Syria with him. She misses her village and people deeply and gets very sick, however, she cannot be treated because of poverty. Some time around 1955-1956 she dies and according to her will, her body is buried back in her own village. There many folk songs about her and there are several versions of her story. This soup, it is said, was the soup she made with whatever she could find in her poor life in Syria and along with her legendary beauty and sad story, it became famous among the peoples of the region following her death.
The first time I ate this soup was when I was in high school. In the small canteen of the school, which I can hardly remember now, this soup was served quite often. The school building was old and it was generally cold in the winter, the canteen was even colder, and it was a great treat to warm yourself with this soup.
This soup was then part of lunches I had with my father whenever I went to his law office in Cagaloglu in Istanbul. We would go to a kebab restaurant nearby, it was a neighbourhood full of offices, shops, kebab places… They always served this soup with flatbread, before the main dish which was a chicken dish for both me and my father. We would then go back to the office, where there were many other characters that I loved observing, such as another lawyer in the office next door whom my father always played backgammon with, or the old painter who always made paintings of Ataturk, the founder of Turkish Republic, and people related to him.
This soup was then the soup that I ate with my childhood friend at 2-3 a.m. in the back alleys of Beyoglu, the heart of Istanbul full of bars, night clubs, book shops, art spaces etc. We were in our 20s then, and whenever we had a night of hardcore drinking we ended up in one of those kebab places serving all night and ate this soup because my stomach had always problems and needed to calm down. Dried mint in the soup is very good for the stomach especially in such cases. We do not talk with my friend anymore, we had a major fight right before I moved to Finland and we will never talk again. I don’t know how many of those places we drank, had fun and then ate the soup are left in Beyoglu now, but we will never ever be there together. Yet, I am not sad about it, because I know it’s meant to be this way.
This soup, then, I cooked about 3 years ago for a journalist friend here in Helsinki, who ate it with me one day as lunch in my previous Arkadiankatu apartment and the recipe was published in several Finnish newspapers.
This soup was then the one that I gave the recipe on the phone to my mother, who, to my surprise, had never even heard of it before. I quickly explained it and my parents quickly became addicted to it.
This soup was the one I cooked for him in our first date. He told me that he was crazy about soup so I wanted to share this soup with him, not only because for me it is the tastiest soup in the world, but also because of its sentimental value. I remember him loving it and having so much of it. It was a beautiful first date, and I didn’t yet know what would happen later on and how big of a broken heart he would leave me with.
This soup, then, was cooked by my mother when I went to Istanbul last spring for treatment for my depression, triggered by the broken heart. I was barely eating, talking, I was barely alive. She cooked this as it was still an addiction for them for lunch, but the moment I saw it I started crying remembering him, and I could not eat it..
This soup, then, finally last summer, is the one I cooked for my friend Jemima, and ate with her when she was visiting Finland. It felt weird at first, but I managed to eat it, I managed to talk about it, I managed to make Jemima love it, and I realised that I was truly on the mend. For me, ever since that dinner with Jemima, it became a dish to test how much I have healed.
You see, it is a very heavy soup for me. Sometimes, you just have to accept things and move on, even if it takes for months or years to do so. It still feels too heavy, but I can mostly bare it now as I am growing stronger. Yet, there are still a couple of tears going down while I am writing this story now..
Difficulty: ★★☆ (medium)
(serves 6-8 people, depending on how dense you want to have it)
2 tbsp / 30 ml. olive oil (alternatively, you can use butter)
1 medium size onion, chopped in small pieces (you can use 1 big onion too, it would only create a richer taste, don’t be afraid)
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped in small pieces (if you prefer, you can crush them too)
1 cup / 240 ml. red lentils, washed and drained
1/2 cup / 120 ml. couscous, washed and drained (you might want to do this right before adding to the pan because washed couscous might get stiff)
1/4 cup / 60 ml. rice, washed and drained (I use porridge rice, but long grain rice works too)
1 lt. vegetable or chicken broth, or just plain water (this is the minimum amount. my suggestion is, once the soup is cooked, leaving it as it is, or gradually adding a bit more broth or water to thin it up as much as you like)
3 tbsp / 45 ml. olive oil (alternatively, you can use vegetable oil, like canola)
1 tbsp / 15 ml. white flour (vehnäjauho, in Finnish)
2 tbsp / 30 ml. tomato paste
1 cup / 240 ml. warm water
1 tbsp / 15 ml. aleppo pepper (if you can’t find this, you can substitute with chilli pepper flakes, or not use anything at all if you want to keep it without spices)
3 tbsp / 45 ml. dried mint (you can NOT omit this at all, the soup is not Ezogelin soup without mint. You can, however, add more – or slightly less – than 3 tbsp)
Salt and pepper to taste
To serve – optional:
fresh lemon to squeeze a bit on top
croutons or better yet, a well baked, tasty, fresh bread
1. In the pan for soup, put 2 tbsp / 30 ml. olive oil or butter on medium heat for about a minute, then add chopped onion and garlic. Sauté for about 3-5 minutes, until onion is quite translucent.
2. Add red lentil, couscous and rice and continuously stirring, cook them with onion and garlic for about 2-3 minutes.
3. Add broth or water, stir a little and close the lid, turning the heat down to medium low. Cook the mixture until lentils, couscous and rice gets soft. While cooking, stir the mixture often so that the pieces do not stick to the bottom of the pan. I would also suggest to leave the lid slightly ajar, so that the dish does not boil over (which happens very quickly before you notice, if you don’t pay much attention). Once cooked, take the pan out of the heat and leave it with the lid on.
4. In another, preferably small pan, put 3 tbsp / 45 ml. olive or vegetable oil on medium heat for about a minute, then add flour and stir it with a wooden spoon or a whisk until the flour / oil mixture becomes like a paste.
5. Add tomato paste and continue stirring until it is fully incorporated.
6. Add 1 cup / 240 ml. warm water (water in room temperature is enough), stir a bit, turn the heat low, and simmer for about 5 minutes.
7. Add the cooked tomato paste mixture to the soup on low heat and stir well.
8. Add aleppo pepper, dried mint, salt and pepper and stir it well. At this point, you can decide if you want to put more water / broth or not. Continue to cook the soup in low heat together with the spices for 5 more minutes, then take it out of the heat. Leave it to cool with the lid on for at least 10 minutes before serving. You can serve with fresh lemon to be squeezed on top of it by your guests, as much as they like. The soup is delicious if you dip small pieces of bread in it or if you add croutons (I prefer bread pieces).