In our effort to eat healthier we have cut back on animal proteins and upped our veggie game. Don’t get me wrong, we still enjoy a good steak for special occasions and I am not giving up those slices of succulent pork belly in my bowl of ramen-no, not EVER. Meat is our splurge. But we have made a conscious decision to eat more vegetables and legumes on a daily basis. Our search for tasty and different ways to prepare them has led to a virtual trip around the world through food.
Luckily we live in the Bay Area where Korean and Southeast Asian stores, Middle Eastern bazaars, Mexican panaderias and Indian markets are all just a short drive away. Now that we are empty nesters Wes and I find ourselves tootling around on weekends stocking up on goodies from the various stores. An added bonus is many of the stores have precooked food sections, delis and SAMPLES (lol) to try. We come home not just with bags of groceries but with boxes of KFC (Korean Fried Chicken Wings-our cheat), hot and crispy samosas, fried tofu flavored with bonito flakes, soy and onions, spicy eggplant loaded with garlic, chilis and sesame or fresh warm naan-yum. I’m getting hungry already.
I do love going to the markets but at the same time it’s a little (ok, alot) intimidating. I spend half my time standing in aisles Googling stuff or calling friends for advice. My friend Namrata (whom we affectionately call the professor at work) is on speed dial whenever I go to the Indian Market. Our calls usually goes like this:
Me: Uh, Namrata I’m at the store, HELP. I want to make dal and I am looking at a rainbow spectrum of lentils, black, red, yellow, green..which am I suppose to get?
Namrata: Well, what kind of Dal are you making?
Me: Hmm, let me look (as I fumble with my phone trying to get to the net and carry on a conversation with her), it says red lentil dal.
Namrata: Buy the masoor dal, the yellow ones are moong dal, the black ones are for special occasions…….Namrata begins to sound like the grown-ups in a Peanuts cartoon. I scan the shelves overwhelmed, I think I have dal overload.
Me: Hmm, this package says masoor or split red lentils, is that right?
Namrata: yes that’s the one.
Me: In my defense, the word “split” threw me off. You have to remember I come from “The world according to Rice”.
Next, I ask her about spices and chiles. I have learned when I ask her “how spicy will that be?” it’s a relative term. If she says not too spicy, that means have a glass of water close and a napkin to blot the sweat off my face. If she says a bit spicy that means running around with my “HAIR ON FIRE” screaming in an exorcist-like voice “I NEED WATER NOW”.
My intentions were to make dal but I found a recipe for a red lentil soup in the New York Times. I decided it would be a good first foray into using lentils. The recipe is by Melissa Clark whose posts in the New York Times are wonderful. My brother has made her his cooking muse. I haven’t seen him go this gaga over anyone since the days when he would rip out pictures of Cybil Shepard from my Seventeen magazines.
This soup is delicious. Wes is not overly fond of soups unless it is clam chowder but this one had him asking for seconds. The lentils absorb much of the liquid and create a thick substantial soup despite not having any dairy. It’s flavor kick comes from chile powder and cumin. A squeeze of lemon brightens the soup and adds a slight yummy tang. You can tweak it by using ghee instead of olive oil, adding a pinch of garam masala and a dollop of yogurt at the end. This gives it an Indian flair. If you are looking for a tasty, filling dish that comes together in less than hour (and even less time in my Instant Pot) try this soup and invite me over for a bowl please. Don’t forget the naan or crusty ciabatta to go along!
- 3 tablespoons olive oil or ghee, more for drizzling
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- pinch of garam masala
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Pinch of ground chile powder or cayenne, more to taste
- 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- In a large pot, heat 2-3 tablespoons oil or ghee over high heat until hot and shimmering**
- Add onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.
- Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder or cayenne, sauté for 2 minutes longer.
- Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot. For a thicker soup only 1 cup of water. Note the soup will thicken the longer it sits after cooking.
- Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low.
- Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30-40 minutes.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor, purée half the soup then add it back to pot. Soup should be somewhat chunky.
- Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in lemon juice and cilantro and garam masala if using
- Serve soup drizzled with good olive oil and dusted lightly with chili powder if desired.
- Instead of olive oil finish with a dollop of yogurt and garnish with additional cilantro
- **If using an Instant Pot or pressure cooker:
- Saute vegetables in the bowl of the Instant Pot using the sauce function. This will take longer than stove top due to lower cooking temp of pot around 5-7 minutes.
- Add all other ingredients, according to recipe. Cover and lock lid in place. Set cooking to manual for 10 minutes.
- When timer goes off do a quick release.
- Proceed with recipe, season and use a hand blender to puree soup in Instant Pot bowl.