The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

Moroccan butternut and lentil soup with chermoula oil

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I know that in this blog I do tend to go on a bit about Monsanto, the giant chemical company which, alongside Bayer and Syngenta, now owns the “patents” to around two thirds of the world’s vegetable seeds.

But I’m not alone in my antipathy – the company was recently voted the “most evil corporation” of 2013 in a poll of 16,000 readers of the US website Natural News. In clinching the title, Monsanto gained over 50% of the vote, far outstripping the other candidates, which included McDonalds, BP, Wal-Mart and Nestle. An impressive feat.

This news must be a blow for a company that has recently been trying to improve its miserable public image by announcing that it will not be taking legal action against farmers whose own non-GM crops have been accidentally contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically engineered seed. This follows the predictable enough revelation that Monsanto’s GM seeds have been spread outward from supposedly enclosed GM sites through the action of wind and insects. Originally, Monsanto had claimed that the farmers whose own crops had been contaminated in this way were guilty of “patent infringement“.

This is par for the course for Monsanto, which has a history of suing small scale farmers.

Traditional small-scale farming has always involved saving seeds from the year’s crop for sowing the following year, but farmers using Monsanto crops are contractually forbidden by the company from doing so, being required to sign an agreement that they will not save and replant seeds produced from the seed they purchase from Monsanto. This means they have to purchase the seeds year on year, a ruthless policy that in recent years has contributed to bankruptcy and suicide on an unprecedented scale amongst farmers in India, who have been lured by false promises of vastly improved yields into borrowing money to fund contracts with Monsanto.

Any farmers who save and sow seed, contrary to their contractual agreement with Monsanto, risk being taken to court: according to the company’s own website, 145 lawsuits have been filed by Monsanto against farmers in the USA alone since 1997.

butternut squash growingbutternut squash harvestedred lentilschermoulah spices

Anyway, time for a GM-free recipe, using some lovely organic butternut squash from my allotment plot, the Circus Garden. I harvested lots of butternut squash back in October, storing them temporarily in my greenhouse to cure in the gentle, slanting rays of autumnal sunlight. With enough care, they will now store for another 2-3 months, making them an important seasonal food source during these leaner times of winter.

So, butternut squash is the base for this rich and comforting soup for which I’ve used traditional Moroccan tagine flavours as my inspiration. The sweet chermoula oil is optional, but it does provide a beautiful hot and sweet counterbalance to the soup.

Moroccan butternut and lentil soup with sweet chermoula oil

for the soup

500 g organic butternut squash, peeled and chopped into chunks
100 g organic red lentils, rinsed and drained in a sieve
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
50 g dried apricots
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1-2 tbsps harissa paste (the more harissa the hotter the soup!)
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp freshly milled black pepper
1.2 l vegetable stock
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

for the chermoula oil

1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika
pinch ground turmeric
pinch cayenne pepper
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
pinch sea salt
1 tbsp organic maple syrup
60 g extra-virgin olive oil


1. To make the sweet chermoula oil, put the olive oil in a pan with the other ingredients and heat gently over a low heat for five minutes, stirring to dissolve the salt and making sure the garlic does not burn. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse.

2. For the soup, heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion and cook for five minutes, stirring every so often, until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic, harissa paste, cinnamon, cumin and coriander. Stir to combine then add the squash, lentils, apricot, salt and stock.

3. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the butternut is soft and the lentils cooked. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for at least 10 minutes. Process in a blender until smooth (you’ll need to do this in batches).

4. Return the soup to a clean pan and gently reheat but do not boil. Give the sweet chermoula oil a good stir. Serve the soup in bowls with a drizzle of the sweet chermoula oil and a middle eastern style bread such as Turkish pide.

Categories: dairy free, gluten free, vegan

Tags: , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. I missed the Monsanto “patent infringement” story… they must have damned good lawyers if they thought they had a chance with that one. Your soup sounds good – we always have lentils on new year’s eve (it’s supposed to ensure good fortune for the coming year), this may well be the recipe I use this year.

    • Dear Sarah

      Thanks for visiting my blog and for your comments.

      What I find hardest to get my head round – and, to me, it’s an example of what is so wrong with our food industry now – is that Monsanto invests so much legal activity into trying to police or even prevent a centuries-old farming tradition: saving and sowing seeds.

      I didn’t know that lentils on New Year’s Eve were supposed to bring good fortune for the year ahead. If you do try this recipe I hope you’ll love the soup as much as my family do.


  2. I am excited to try this soup. Looks amazing! It has so many of my favorite flavors!

  3. Hello, I read your blogs like every week. Your writing style
    is awesome, keep doing what you’re doing

  4. You can definitely see your expertise within the work you write. The arena hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. At all times follow your heart.

  5. Wow this looks delicious! I am always sneaking in lentils anywhere I can, they are such little powerhouses. I love a great lentil soup and/or stew as well, so you’ve hit a home run for me. And I can’t even talk about Monsanto right now, once I get started… ahhhhh!! But thanks for a delicious recipe, can’t wait to try it once it cools down around here. 🙂


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