Sometimes this magical thing happens in my kitchen, where I have all of the ingredients, even some that are fairly obscure, and I can make something really delicious on the spur of the moment. I love it when that happens.
Since Plenty, what I’ve been in the mood for is vegetables, and this blog I follow, Dana Treat, has tons of ideas for seasonal delicious vegetable food. (Notice that I didn’t say vegetarian? I really am not a vegetarian.) Still, maybe because of the holiday gluttony, vegetarian, even vegan food is what I crave. So I was very happy to discover this soup last week. It’s one I’ve eyed and abandoned in the Deborah Madison Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for years. For some reason, I think because Ms. Madison described the soup as “thin”, it didn’t sound so delicious. Then I saw the photograph on Dana Treat, and I was turned. This is a fabulous soup. Also, it is very easy to make, which proved to be very handy when I was housebound with four kids for three days last week.
So often jilted by the weatherman predicting snow, I refused to believe what the weather reports were saying. Surprise, surprise! Wednesday morning we were totally snowed in, a rare thing in Seattle. I couldn’t get the car out of the driveway. I was afraid to even try. I was kind of desperate to come up with a dinner for four hungry kids using only what I had in the cupboard. Scanning the recipe for Red Lentil Soup with Lime; was it possible I had what I needed?! I peered into my pantry.
Wow. I had two cups of red lentils! I had basmati rice! Turmeric and cumin – I always have those! When I found some only barely wilted cilantro in the crisper and a couple of limes, there were clearly beautiful possibilities for dinner. (Although I feel I must mention that my brave and kind friend Mary Alice went out into the cold to bring us a gallon of milk, orange juice and—because I’m shameless—some fresh spinach for this soup! She trekked through the snow and ice with a backpack and Yaktrax (so cool!) on her boots for us!) Technically I suppose we could have skipped the spinach, but when you’re snowed in you get anxious for something green.
As always, and even though there is rice, I think this is lovely with homemade croutons. Only five extra minutes!
Red Lentil Soup
from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison
- 2 cups split red lentils
- 1 tbsp turmeric
- 4 tbsp butter
- 1 large onion, chopped fine (about 2 cups)
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 bunch of chopped cilantro
- juice of three limes
- 1 bunch of spinach sliced crosswise in ribbons
- 1 cup cooked basmati rice
- full fat Greek yogurt for garnish
- Put the lentils, turmeric, 1 tbsp of butter, and 1 tbsp sea salt with 2 1/2 quarts of water in a 7 qt. heavy sauce pan or dutch oven. Over medium high heat, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. The lentils should be very soft and nearly falling apart.
- Using an immersion blender, pureé until very smooth.
- While the soup simmers, in a large heavy sauté pan, cook the onion in 2 tablespoons of butter, with the cumin and the mustard seeds, over low heat. When the onions are very soft, after about 15 minutes, add the cilantro and cook for one more minute.
- Add the onion mixture to the soup and the juice of two limes. Taste to see if you would like more lime juice. This soup tastes very good a little sour.
- When it is time to serve the soup, take 1 tbsp of butter and melt in a wide skillet over medium heat. When it foams add the spinach and sprinkle with pinch of seasalt. Cook until it is just wilted and divide among the soup bowls. (I skipped the spinach for my son, he hates it. The soup was still very good)
- Add a generous spoonful of warm rice to each bowl. Ladle soup over the spinach and rice.
- Garnish with a dollop of yogurt.
While the soup is simmering and the onions are sweating in butter, you could make the croutons. They are not required but I totally love them with this soup. I happened to have a very stale ciabatta on the counter during the snow week and I hacked off slices all week long. I put croutons under poached eggs, with cheese and salami and with this soup. It really doesn’t matter if the bread is very stale. The croutons should be glossy with butter and olive oil and so crisp they shatter as you bite down.
I would cook the croutons first, and then wilt the spinach, in the same pan.
- 4-6 slices from a loaf of stale artisan bread, about 1/3″ thick
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Heat the butter and oil over medium high heat.
- Sauté sliced bread until golden, then flip. 1-2 minutes per side.
There is something about this soup, or maybe there are a few things. First of all, the color is ravishing, a pure saturated yellow, flecked with bright green cilantro. The scent of melting onions and the toasted aroma of mustard seeds were the perfect antidote to a cold wintery night. And then of course there was the cool, creamy, yogurt, in counterpoint to the richly flavored soup. We all loved it.