Lamb soup with lentils and cracked wheat

Originating from the Middle East and India, the ʻhaleemʼ – a type of thick, hearty soup – is all about slow cooking. Flaked nuggets of lamb, wheat and lentils are enrobed in a broth of robust spices. I always sear the meat before cooking so it gains a flavourful browned crust, and if I have ghee (clarified butter, found in Asian supermarkets), I add a teaspoon into the oil when frying the onions to give them a buttery taste (though you can do perfectly well without). Serve with basmati rice or baguette. 

The Island Kitchen by Selina Periampillai (Bloomsbury Publishing, £26) is out now. Photography by Yuki Sugiura.

Ingredients Serves: 4

  • Vegetable oil, for frying, plus 1 tsp ghee (optional)
  • 2 onions, finely sliced
  • 500g lamb shoulder/leg, cut into 3cm pieces (ask your butcher to do this) or substitute with stewing lamb (approx. 20 pieces)
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh root ginger
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 tsp ground cardamom or 16 cardamom pods, seeds only, ground
  • 11⁄2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 50g yellow split peas, rinsed and drained
  • 50g bulgur wheat or pearl barley, rinsed and drained
  • 50g brown lentils, rinsed and drained 1⁄2 tsp salt
  • Small handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
  • Small handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped

To serve

  • Natural yoghurt
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped 1 lemon, cut into wedges


  1. In a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, add a good glug of vegetable oil (and 1 teaspoon ghee if you have it) to cover the bottom of the pan. Once hot, tip in all the sliced onions and fry until you have crisp browned onions, charred on the edges. This is will take around 7–10 minutes. Drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper and set aside.
  2. In a large flameproof casserole dish or deep saucepan, add in 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over a high heat and brown the meat in two batches, 5 minutes per batch, until the lamb is a caramelised golden-brown colour and seared all over. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add in another 1 tablespoon oil, then the garlic, ginger and shallots and sweat for 5–7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Tip in the seared lamb pieces and combine with the garlic and ginger.
  3. Place the spices – turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and chilli powder – in a small bowl and mix well with a spoon. Add in a splash of water (2 or 3 tablespoons) and mix to a wet paste. Spoon this into the pan with the lamb, ensuring all the pieces are coated.
  4. Next add in the split peas, wheat and brown lentils, 600ml water and the salt. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a low simmer. Cover the pan and cook for 1 hour 30 minutes. Halfway through cooking, gently stir to prevent it sticking on the bottom of the pan. If you would like a thinner consistency, you can add in more water 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
  5. Scatter in the mint and coriander and cook for another 10 minutes. Check the lamb is tender and breaking apart and the lentils are cooked.
  6. Swirl a spoonful of yoghurt into the haleem, top with the spring onion and crispy onions, and serve with rice or with a buttered crust of French baguette. Squeeze over lemon wedges as you eat.
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