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Mediterranean Kitchen Lentil Soup

What a superb soup: bright, tangy, aromatic, adorable to look at, and at the same time satisfyingly filling. Also please take note: it is pure vegetarian. Many thanks to Dan Kiehnle of Seattle for contributing the recipe. Dan is what I'd call an extraordinary guy. Loves to cook, goes without saying: "I like to cook and have been messing around in the kitchen since I was a kid. Mom and Dad never shooed me out of the kitchen and I like adapting recipes to my own tastes." He gardens, keeps honeybees and extracts the honey "when I get enough to keep and the varroa mites haven't killed off the bees." Deciding that a lifetime phobia of mathematics wasn't going to stand in his way, he fought through the required classes, discovering math isn't so scary after all, and is now a year away from completing his B.A. in English. Plus, "one last thing...I just became a grandpa. My oldest gave birth to a little girl last month, so I'm going to do my best to spoil the heck out of this little gift we've all been given." See what I mean? Dan notes that this recipe is an adaptation of a soup he loves at Seattle's Mediterranean Kitchen...which the restaurant kindly blessed for him to send forward to soupsong. Dan reduces the fat, increases the cilantro, adds Monterey jack cheese as a garnish, and recommends eating it over rice. I just love it. Serve hot to 4-6 people as a meal, over rice or with plenty of bread and with a salad is nice too.

Garnish: 4-6 whole cilantro leaves; (optional: grated Monterey jack cheese, passed separately for people to serve themselves)

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven, then stir in the onion and sauté until it begins to brown. Stir in the red pepper and sauté two more minutes. Stir in the lentils, coating with the oil, then pour in the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 40 minutes. Stir in the allspice, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and black pepper, re-cover, and cook for 20 more minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the garlic blend. If you don't want to press the garlic, you can always puree it with the oil and water in a blender. When you are ready to serve, and after at least 20 minutes have passed, stir in the chopped cilantro. Turn off the heat, stir in the garlic blend, and cover, letting the flavors steep for a minute or two. Stir in the lemon juice, check the seasoning, and get ready to serve. You may serve over rice or just ladle into bowls as is, garnishing each with a cilantro leaf. Pass a bowl of grated Monterey jack for guests to add to their own taste.