Red Lentil Soup
2 cups dry red lentils
7 large onions, chopped
7 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
4 teaspoons ground cumin
5 cups chicken broth
5 cups water
2 teaspoons nigella seeds*
* Ground black pepper may be substituted
Place lentils in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, for 9 minutes. Drain and place aside. In a large stockpot, fry 6 of the chopped onions, garlic, turmeric, and cumin in olive oil until golden. Transfer lentils, broth, and water to the pot. Add salt, nigella seed or pepper to taste. Bring soup to a boil. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes. Fry the remaining onion in olive oil until crisp but not blackened. Add as a garnish over individual bowls of soup.
From her bedroom window, in a flat above the Reek Relics shop,
Dervla Quigley could see the universe. Or its equivalent, which for her was the
comings and goings of all who ventured up and down Main Mall.
A proud Ballinacroagh native through and through, Dervla had lived with her spinster sister Marie Brennan, ever since her husband of forty-one years passed away. Although most in town knew the circumstance of Jim Quigley's ignominious death (a horse breeder from County Kildare, he met his grand demise being squashed under the flanks of a spotted filly), no one dared speak about it. As Ballinacroagh's primary gossip, Dervla kept mouths shut with a combination of canine hearing and a vicious tongue that knew no boundaries.
At most times of the day except during six o'clock Mass Dervla could be found spying out of her bedroom window. Bolstering her hunched torso with large pillows, she stared with beady, rhubarb gray eyes out into the damp street below, determined not to miss a minute of provincial drama. It was an admirable feat of endurance, this constant watch over all Ballinacroagh, especially considering the old gossip's unfortunate medical condition. At the height of her autumn years, and without warning, Dervla Quigley had been stricken with incontinence, an embarrassing bladder problem that left her housebound and dependent on her long-suffering sister. Unable to control her own body, Dervla soon became obsessed with manipulating everyone else's. Gossip was not only her friend and solace but a source of great power.
The week that the Aminpour sisters moved into the old pastry shop would prove especially fruitful for Dervla Quigley. By Sunday, she had almost met her weekly quota of scandals: on Wednesday, at 1:17 a.m.: Benny Corcoran stumbled half-blind and drunk out of Paddy's, his hand on the arse of someone other than his saintly wife (Dervla blamed the broken streetlamp over the pub for obscuring the floozy's face); on Friday, at 2:47 p.m.: a caravan of ten decrepit trailer homes tinkers with no shame to them, no shame at all climbed up Main Mall toward the lower levels of the craggy mountain heap.
Tinkers. Just the word made Dervla shudder. The old gossip's fury, of course, was a direct product of her ignorance. Despite her boundless curiosity, Dervla had never stopped to learn the tumultuous history of Ireland's traveling people. Tinker or "Tinceard" in Gaelic, referred to the tin pots and cooking pans that, until only a few years ago, were mended and peddled by the freckly, pale-eyed Celtic nomads. Before plying their tin trade, these travelers had been storytellers, descendents of medieval Irish bards who earned their daily bread by belting out high-pitched ditties:
She went to live with a gentleman; one day came a tinker to solder her pan.
Excerpted from Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran. Copyright © 2005 by Marsha Mehran. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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