Red Lentil Soup with Sherene

“I learned to cook half from my mother and half from my mother law. While my mother in law is very methodical when she cooks, my mother is more spontaneous and haphazard in her approach”.

In the space between each ingredient addition, knife and spoon alternation and wipe of the bench, Sherene narrates her cooking process; one that has been significantly influenced by both her mother; Ruba and mother in law; Samira. A sociologist by profession, Sherene is a natural observer and appreciator of the behavioural rituals and nuances of those around her. “My mother in law rinses the rice and sets it aside, whereas my mother soaks it for ages, removing all the starch”. While preparing lentil soup, Sherene simultaneously reveals, and appreciates the culinary methodology of both women, reflecting on the tender approach of Samira and the instinctive movement of Ruba.

“My mother didn’t learn traditional ways of cooking things. Her mother was very health conscious”. While Ruba provided the initial foundations for Sherene’s culinary understanding and practice, lengthy periods in the kitchen and the garden of Samira introduced Sherene to new ways of doing. “I learnt a lot of tricks from my mother in law. Though it is hard for her to teach me how to cook things. She never had a formal education, but she learnt things in the village in Syria. In Sydney she has the most amazing garden. She makes her own zaatar. But when she cooks it is still like she is cooking for the whole village. My mother in law is very respectful of food. When she would teach me how to make egg noodles for example she would say ‘You can not leave them alone. They need extra attention. You can not take your eyes off them. They have to be evenly golden’”.

Sherene_Red Lentil Soup

Sherene’s Red Lentil Soup


1 onion – finely chopped

1 1/4 cup of red lentils

1/4 cup of rice

1/2 potato chopped

2 cups of stock (chicken or vegetable)

Salt to taste

1/2 Teaspoon of turmeric

1 teaspoon of cumin

Juice of 1-2 lemons (as per taste)

4-5 cups of cold water (or as needed to ensure watery consistency of soup)


Rinse lentils and rice together thoroughly under cold water, set aside.

Fry onion in olive oil in a medium saucepan in olive oil, once cooked add chopped potato and cook until softened

Add rice and lentils, stock, tumeric, cumin, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and bring to the boil

Cove with a lid and simmer for 30-45 minutes – add water as needed

Serve with extra lemon wedges

This is the eleventh post in a special series dedicated to my collaboration with Settlement Services International in the lead up to their annual New Beginnings: Refugee Arts & Culture Festival during Refugee Week 2017. A big, warm thank you to the SSI staff and volunteers who have assisted in the project collaboration so far.


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