Friday, October 26, 2018

Red Lentil Coconut Soup

Let’s call this post, "An Ode to Lentil Soup: The Legume That Keeps on Giving." Can you think of any other ingredient that stores in the pantry sans expiration, has just enough protein to negate additional perishable carnivorous sources, singlehandedly creates its own broth (no can of veggie or chicken stock necessary, lentil brodo is downright drinkable) and produces complex, robust, meaty flavor by way of such a humble, singular ingredient that also happens to proffer multiple varieties (red, green, puy, beluga) to choose from? 

I didn’t think so.

Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks recently put forth a list called Nine Great Lentil Soups to Choose From, and oh em gee, my recipe list is set for the next two months. Made with red and yellow split lentils, the variety most traditionally used in Indian cooking as dal, this Red Lentil Coconut Soup takes on a curry quality so subtle it’s impossibly intriguing. The lentils are softly spiced with curry powder, tomato paste, ginger and silky coconut milk—hence the curry essence— but the soup is filled with bite-sized surprises: plump golden raisins, sweet carrot rounds, dots of cilantro. The result is an enthralling, belly-warming bowlful of (mostly) pantry ingredients that exudes richness without feeling heavy. In other words, the kind of meal that tastes like you labored for days, when in reality, you flung open your larder and spent 30 minutes by the stove. Plus, it allows you to summon the always gleeful proclamation of “and it’s healthy, too!” to your stunned dinning companions upon their first spoonfuls. 

Heidi’s list is riddled with intriguing, interesting soups. Persian New Year Noodle Soup is thick with egg noodles, turmeric, and dill, while Smoky Sweet Potato Lentil Tortilla Soup radiates heat from diced chipotles and rufous paprika. I urge you to check out the full list.

As for lentil varieties, each one sits in a distinct spot on the savory spectrum (green lentils are earthy and mushroom-like, dal is sweeter with pea-like essence), so a different kind of lentil can end up tasting like an entirely different ingredient. That being said, you can use them interchangeably. Don’t fret if red and yellow split lentils are not available at a grocery store near you; green or puy will work here just fine.
Red Lentil Coconut Soup (from 101 Cookbooks)
Serves 6

1 c yellow split peas
1 c red split lentils (masoor dal)
1 medium carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice (I used 3, but I really like carrots)
2 Tbsp fresh peeled and minced ginger
2 Tbsps curry powder
2 Tbsp butter, ghee, or coconut oil
8 scallions, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp golden raisins
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 14-ounce can coconut milk (reduced fat OK)
2 tsp fine grain sea salt
One small handful cilantro, chopped

1. Give the split peas and lentils a good rinse (until they no longer put off murky water). Place them in an extra-large soup pot, cover with 7 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the carrot and 1/4 of the ginger. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the split peas are soft.
2. In the meantime, in a small dry skillet or saucepan over low heat, toast the curry powder until it is quite fragrant. Be careful though, you don't want to burn the curry powder, just toast it. Set aside. Place the butter/oil in a pan over medium heat, add half of the green onions, the remaining ginger, and raisins. Saute for two minutes stirring constantly, then add the tomato paste and saute for another minute or two more.
3. Add the toasted curry powder to the tomato paste mixture, mix well, and then add this to the simmering soup along with the coconut milk and salt. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or so. The texture should thicken up, but you can play around with the consistency if you like by adding more water, a bit at a time, if you like. Simmer longer for a thicker consistency.
4. To serve, sprinkle each bowl generously with cilantro and the remaining green onions.

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