Iron Soup

Maintaining adequate iron levels is essential to good health yet the World Health Organization says that iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world.  And, it’s the only nutrient deficiency which is significantly prevalent in both developing and industralized countries.   In America, 20% of women of childbearing age are iron deficient while Canadian Blood Services estimates that 10% of women who arrive to donate blood are turned away because they do not meet minimum hemoglobin criteria, suggesting a considerable issue north of the border as well.

Forming a component of all human cells, iron assists the body in many vital functions including the transport of oxygen to tissues.  An iron deficiency might manifest itself as irritability, fatigue, weakness, hair loss and brittle nails.

Dietary iron comes in two types: heme and non-heme.  Heme iron, found in meat, is absorbed and utilized by the body more easily than the plant-based non-heme variety. It is important, however, to consume foods from both sources in a balanced diet. This soup contains lentils and spinach, two of the best sources of nonheme iron.  Don’t skip the fresh lemon juice – vitamin C helps the body absorb iron.  Lentils also provide fibre and protein, making this a healthy, satisfying soup.

Lebanese Lentil Soup with Spinach and Lemon
(slightly adapted from this guy’s recipe)

3 tbsp + 1 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1-1/2 cups green or brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
4 cups water
2 tsp dried mint or 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
Salt + freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 8-oz bag washed spinach, tough stems removed (or one package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained)
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
juice of 1 lemon
Plain yogurt for garnish (optional)

In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add onions and garlic, cook until yellow.  Stir in cumin and cayenne and cook for a few seconds.  Add lentils, stock and water.  Raise heat to high.

When it comes to boil, reduce to simmer and cook until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Add mint and season with salt and pepper. Purée 1 cup of soup in food processor and stir back into pot.

While lentils are cooking, heat remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add half of spinach and stir until wilted. Add remaining spinach and stir until wilted. Transfer spinach to cutting board and roughly chop. Set aside. (If using frozen, don’t bother cooking it, just set aside until later.)

When ready to serve soup, bring to simmer and stir in spinach, lemon zest and juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with dollop of yogurt.

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