I found a good number of regional variations on lentil soup with swiss chard--a kind of Italian version that includes sausage; a South Indian version that includes coconut milk, and rishta, the Middle Eastern version that I settled on.
I found a handful of rishta recipes on the web. I cobbled together my own version based primarily on this one but tweaked with some improvements and fixed so it actually works.
1 1/2 cups green or brown lentils
6 cups cold water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Approximately 2 cups broth of your choice (I used beef)
2 1/2 cups swiss chard leaves and tender stems, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup uncooked egg noodles or small pasta. (I used ditalini)
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg per serving (not traditional as far as I saw, but really good)
1. Wash lentils and place in dutch oven with the cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming if necessary, cover, lower heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil on medium heat in an 8-inch cast iron pan (or some approximation). When oil is shimmery add onions. Cook on medium heat until caramelized to a deep brown. [I'm not very good at this, but the key seems to be a) not adding salt and b) not stirring too frequently.] When it's about ready, stir in garlic, cumin and coriander, cook for 30 seconds more and remove from heat. The cast iron will retain enough heat to burn the onions so don't wait too long and be ready to move on to the next step.
3. Transfer onions (along with the garlic and olive oil) to a blender. Add 1/2 to 1 cup of the lentil cooking liquid. Blend smooth and add to pot with lentils.
4. Also add the swiss chard, the broth and half of the parsley and cilantro. [The lentils should have absorbed around two cups of water so this will bring the total liquid back up to six cups.] Return to a gentle simmer and cook for another ten minutes.
5. Check lentils for doneness. If they're completely done add noodles, lemon juice and salt and pepper. [Any acid will severely slow lentils' absorption of water so they need to be at the texture you want before you add the lemon juice (or, if you decide to try the Italian recipe, the tomatoes). I know salt has the same effect on beans and whole grains. I don't know if it does it to lentils but I'm not taking any chances.] Cook for the recommended cooking time of your pasta plus a couple minutes because the soup is at a gentle simmer which is a bit low for cooking pasta.
6. When there is five minutes cooking time left, crack your eggs into the soup, turn the heat up a little, put the lid back on and cook for five minutes or until the eggs are poached to your liking. Or you could poach your eggs separately if you want.
7. Serve each bowl topped with parsley, cilantro and scallion and an egg along with a lemon wedge and some bread.
This is an earthy soup (particularly if you use beef broth) but the hints of spice give that deep flavor form and keep that earthiness from being muddy or am I taking the analogy too far? It's enriched by the addition of the egg and lightened by the chard and the bright herbal and citrus notes. It's homey but it's got a lot of layers to it. There's a lot of different textures going on too with the soft lentils, chewy pasta, not-quite-mushy-if-you-timed-things-right chard and crisp scallion. Maybe it could use a little hot pepper, but otherwise very nice indeed.