Yes, ras el hanout is not available everywhere but I really recommend seeking it out. It is the lazy, busy cook's best friend. Its unique blend makes for a one-spice-add-and-done, rather than scrounging your pantry looking for the host of warming spices this kind of dish normally requires.
1½ tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, diced
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1½ tbsp ras el hanout
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
400g tin crushed tomatoes
1.5L chicken stock
300g red lentils
2 cups shredded roast chicken
1 tsp Urfa biber*, Aleppo pepper or other mild chilli flakes
To serve (all optional)
labne, Greek-style yoghurt or feta
1. Add the oil to a large saucepan over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, celery and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the ras el hanout and paprika and cook for another minute or until fragrant, and the onion mixture is coated.
2. Add the crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. At this point I love to give the mixture a quick blitz with a handheld blender, straight in the pot, to get rid of any larger chunks. It helps to penetrate the flavours and sweeten the mixture with the cooked onion.
3. Add the stock and lentils and simmer for 25 minutes or until the lentils are cooked. Give the soup another quick blitz – you don't want it to be completely uniform, but it helps to thicken the soup by blending the lentil mixture, too. Add the chicken to the pot to warm through, or if you prefer to add the meat on top as pictured, warm it separately.
4. Divide the soup among serving bowls. Top with chicken, if warmed separately, and sprinkle with the chilli flakes. Add any of the optional add-ons, if using (pictured is labne, coriander leaves and winter herbs).
Tip: I've suggested a few add-ons to top your soup, if you feel that way inclined. I love adding elements of texture to what can otherwise be monotonous mouthful after mouthful. But this soup does rather well with a simple smattering of salt and pepper. And let's be honest, simple and quick is what we are seeking here.
*Urfa biber is available fom Middle Eastern and specialty grocers
If you like this recipe, try my roasted ras el hanout pumpkin soup