As with the earlier incident involving salad dressing, I have a pompous AND wordy recipe for Red Lentil Soup today. It's vegan, which is a shocking situation for me, but it's just a recipe that happened to turn out that way. I won't let it happen again.
A friend, who's vegan, and bored with her dietary options, had asked about it, and I sent her this write-up...
Red Lentil Soup
2-6 tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Knorr Vegetarian Vegetable Bouillon Cubes
9 cups water
1 ¾ C. Split Red Lentils, picked/culled, rinsed and set aside
1 large onion, chopped reasonably fine
1 medium-large carrot, chopped into a moderately fine dice
3 cloves garlic, crushed/minced
1 tsp. ground Cumin
½ tsp. ground Turmeric
1 tsp. Cayenne Pepper &/or ALEPPO PEPPER
½ tsp.-1 tsp. Ras El Hanout
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Lemon Wedges/Fresh Lemon Juice
Time to Cocktails: 15 minutes
Time to Table: 1:30-1:45
Time to plate: 0:10 (give or take, based on your decision on blending and the method you might use.)
Cost (Not Counting oil, herbs, spices, pantry items):
Roughly $3.00 total, $0.50 per serving
It is summer at the moment, and while Winter always seems singularly appropriate to soup making, and soup eating, we are still going to discuss this now. We are going to be using Red Lentils (which are also referred to as Pink Lentils, and may be known as “Masoor Dal” in the context of Indian grocery stores.) You can find them online, in particular www.kalustyans.com will have them in various degrees of bulk, but at a price. I buy them in bulk at the Flatbush food co-op in Brooklyn, where they sell somewhere around $2.59ish per pound. There is a small discount for members, but that’s the base price. In addition to the flavor, one major advantage of red lentils is that they don’t require pre-soaking, and can go straight into the soup.
One thing to note: when cooking with lentils, they don't precisely "go bad", but as they have been in the pantry longer, they require a different amount of time to cook, so use old or new lentils as you wish, but don't use them at the same time, as the texture will vary between the two bags/batches.
It’s easier than you might think, and it’s one my favorites, and one of my wife’s as well.
Lentils have a very complete mix of protein, and this recipe is very low in fat, and cholesterol. You can check www.nutritiondata.com for the details as you prepare any foods, and while it can be time consuming, it’s one way to tell how your foods stack up when you cook for yourself. If you would like to use regular lentils, I have had reasonably decent luck with that as well, but
Begin putting a 5-plus quart stockpot onto a medium flame. When the pot is hot enough to cause water to sizzle (put a drop on your finger and flick it in, when it hisses, you are ready), add 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and toss in your onions and garlic. Reduce heat slightly, and sauté the onions and garlic until lightly browned and translucent. Add your diced carrot, and continue to sauté for a few minutes more, reducing heat if necessary to prevent burning.
When the carrots have sautéed for a few minutes, add the water, vegetable bouillon cubes and lentils. Stir lightly to combine the ingredients and prevent the lentils from clumping. Increase heat to high, and bring to a healthy boil. You may add some salt at this time, but err on the side of UNDER-salting at this point in the process, you can always add more, but it is impossible to effectively remove it once you have too much. Furthermore, salt is said to toughen lentils when added before they are cooked.
Once the soup has boiled, reduce heat until the soup is simmering, add in your pepper as needed, along with cayenne, turmeric and cumin. I’m a huge fan of Aleppo pepper (sun-dried flakes) in this recipe in lieu of or in addition to the cayenne… it is a warmer, rounder, less hot pepper than cayenne, & provides a great deal of flavor in addition to purely heating up the palate. You can adjust the amounts based on your own taste, the Cayenne in particular is a personal judgment call. Stir the spices in, and cover at a simmer. Check/stir periodically while it cooks. Simmer for roughly an hour, check the lentils for doneness at that time. If you like a thicker consistency, you may continue to simmer with the lid on or off (removing the lid will speed up the reduction in liquid.) At a low simmer, the soup will hold (with potential additions of water periodically) if you need to prepare other dishes for a meal or seat guests as necessary.
If you have a “stick” blender, here is where it’s extremely useful, and to my own taste the soup is much preferable smoothly blended together. You can also use a regular countertop blender, though it is far more time consuming.
Once the soup is blended, adjust seasonings (chiefly salt/pepper), while bearing in mind that the final flavor will be affected by the addition of lemon to each bowl, or to the entire quantity. Don’t be afraid to season, but be cautious of over-salting. It is best to stop while it seems “not quite salty enough”. You or your guests can always add their own if they so choose.
If you are freezing a portion (or all) of the soup, do not add the lemon at this time. When it is served, either add the lemon at the very end of the cooking, once the heat is shut off, or serve with lemon wedges at each place at the table. You can choose to float some olive oil in the surface of the soup for flavor and aesthetics as well as an added unctuousness, or richness. I have on occasion added a dollop labneh, crème fraiche or plain yogurt on the surface as well, but it is far from necessary.
Serve with warm, crusty bread if desired. This soup will also keep very well in the freezer, simply reheat on low, with a trace of water to start thawing the frozen brick of soup.
-If you are not planning on blending the soup together, you may want to chop the onion/garlic/carrot much finer, to your own taste and preference, probably more along the lines of a brunoise. I always hand blend this soup, but your mileage may vary.
-When preparing the lentils, put them on a light colored plate, and sift through, checking for off-color pieces, or even small stones. Remove anything unappetizing, rinse in a strainer, and leave to add to the soup as needed. Whole lentils, red or otherwise, will require a longer cooking time than split lentils. Also, do not mix newly purchased lentils with ones you have had in the pantry for a longer period of time, as they will cook unevenly due to moisture loss over time.
-Ras el Hanout (there are alternate spellings) is available in specialty markets, and has roots in Morocco. It has an aromatic quality, and is a blend of a huge number of other spices. It means “top of the shop” in the local vernacular, and while you don’t need it, I find it adds a nice depth of flavor to the soup. It is also useful for flavoring couscous and an array of other middle eastern dishes.
-You may decide to use a bouillon other than vegetable, but it is certainly more than adequate to the process. If you are watching your salt intake, consider reducing or eliminating the bouillon included, if necessary. Clearly it significantly improves the flavor, but if salt is an issue, increase the acidity with lemon juice, and you will be unlikely to miss the saltiness. One bouillon cube has 70% of your daily value of sodium, so use your own discretion. I have made this with two or three cubes, generally.
-If you are using regular lentils, be prepared to cook longer than indicated below, and be advised you may also want to check and add water to the soup to keep the lentils from drying out, burning/sticking. Check individual lentils for doneness every twenty minutes or so beyond the first hour.
-A stick blender (also called an “immersion blender”) is incredibly useful for soups, and will come in handy for smoothies, whisking eggs (most have a replaceable set of attachments) and other tasks. The price over-all is not excessive, and when it’s needed I’ve found mine to be indispensible.
-Cost is according to what I’ve paid for this dish most recently, and you may see some variability in price. In this dish I’ve included the cost of all the vegetables, lemon, and bouillon, but I’ve not counted the cost of oil, seasonings, salt or water ;) As with all things, you will have to determine the price point of your own local store.
-Your “time to cocktails” above is roughly the amount of time you need to put in before the cooking process is relatively hands off, though you will need to cast an eye on things from time to time.-“Time to table” is roughly how long it will be including prep and all other phases of the cooking process until you are ready to serve the dish into plates or bowls. I’m leaving it there as I don’t know how long a walk it is from your kitchen to your dining room.