I don't usually get excited about vegetarian lunch buffets, but I love the buffet at local Middle Eastern restaurant Casablanca. I've been to Casablanca for dinner, too, and it was fine, but the menu wasn't nearly as interesting as the lunch selections. Such as, for example, chunks of buttery braised cabbage with cumin and lemon juice. And veggie stew made with eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. and spicy yellow lentil soup.
Whenever I have lunch at Casablanca I vow to recreate all these dishes at home. (Much thanks to anyone who can point me to a good Middle Eastern cookbook or braised cabbage recipe.) Last week I made what I think was a surprisingly good imitation of Casablanca's lentil soup. I did use split peas and chicken stock instead of yellow lentils and vegetarian-friendly water/veggie stock, but the soup hardly suffered for it.
Soak 1 cup of split peas overnight. In a stock or soup pot, bring 4 cups of chicken stock to a simmer, then add the peas and cook until they're soft--about 30 minutes. Don't worry if the peas get mushy; you'll be pureeing the soup later on.
When the peas are close to being done, dice a large onion and a couple of carrots and sauté in olive oil until the onions are soft and golden--about 10 to 15 minutes. Add a heaping teaspoon of coriander and a heaping teaspoon of cumin to the vegetables, cook for another minute. Add the caramelized vegetables to the soup pot, along with a bay leaf, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt and cayenne to taste--I used 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of cayenne, which was plenty for me. Take the soup off the heat, remove the bay leaf and puree the soup in a blender or food processor in batches. Add more stock or a little water if it's too thick. Serve with wedges of lemon and squeeze lemon juice into the soup before eating. A dollop of plain yogurt wouldn’t be bad either.