Lentil soup has always been an event in our house. There’s something rebellious and mischievous about it. We don’t eat it with a spoon; we eat it with our hands, using chapattis to scoop it into our mouths. When I was a child, my dad would make the soup, but not the chapattis—that job belonged to my mum and me.
We’d fill a bowl with special flour and make a hole in the middle, then pour in the oil, a bit of salt, and a splash of water, kneading it all together. No spoons, no measuring, just hands and guess work. We’d divide the mixture up into balls and roll each one out really thinly. The custom in Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, where my dad came from, dictates doing that with the hands, but Mum is British.
We’d put each chapatti in the frying pan with a bit of oil, and every time a bubble appeared, we had to squash it down. It was like a game. When there were too many air bubbles to squash, it was time to turn the chapatti. When the soup was ready, we’d rip up a warm chapatti and scoop the soup. We were creating memories that we didn’t know were precious, the three of us enjoying cooking together.
After I was grown and had moved to London, my dad died quite suddenly. I went home (to Darlington, in northeast England), and one of the first things Mum asked was for me to make lentil soup. My dad had taught me how to make it before I moved away. I remember the feeling of dread as I walked into the kitchen, the sadness, the grief, the absolute loneliness. Tears fell down my cheeks as I cooked.
My mum came into the kitchen silently and took a bowl to make chapattis. There was an unspoken bond of sorrow between us, a strength in the unity of doing this work together. We didn’t need words. It was painful, but there was a strange beauty in what we were doing. The soup tasted like burnt cardboard, like everything else we had eaten since my dad died, but there was some comfort in that.
Time has passed and has done its job of healing. Now Mum and I make lentil soup and chapattis together, with pleasure and laughter. We are creating new memories that we don’t know are precious yet. We are just living.
Miriam Babooram is an actress and voice artist. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Red Lentil Soup
1 carrot, grated
1 red chilli, to taste
1 bay leaf
pinch of turmeric
pinch of salt
grind of pepper
Dice the potato, onion and tomato into small cubes.
Finely chop up as much chilli as you like.
Place in a pan with turmeric, salt, pepper, and bay leaf.
Add a handful of lentils per person to be served.
Pour in enough water to cover everything by about 1 inch.
Bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover, and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes.
Remove bay leaf and serve in deep bowls.
8 oz. wholemeal flour
pinch of salt
2 T. flavourless oil, such as sunflower
additional oil for cooking
Mix the flour and salt in a bowl.
Make a hole in the middle of the flour and pour in the oil.
Use your hands to knead in the oil.
Add some water and keep kneading until an elastic dough is formed.
Break the dough into small balls.
Flour a surface and roll out the balls into thin circles. (With some practice, you can use your hands.)
Heat a frying pan with a little oil and add one chapatti. Every time you see a bubble, squash it with the back of a wooden spoon.
When there are a lot of bubbles, turn the chapatti over and do it again.
Use the chapatti to scoop up the soup.