In my very early 20’s I dated a wonderful Italian man my age. He was a funny, upbeat guy and we shared a common passion: food. His diminutive mother was an amazing cook, and always urging me to eat more.
She often made a delicious lentil stew in the traditional European way (start with water, onions, potatoes, garlic and celery) and for a long time, it was my favorite go-to soup. The boyfriend didn’t last but the recipe was engraved on my heart. It was years before I experimented with other flavors and vegetables. When I discovered exotic Middle and Far Eastern cuisine, I found new favorites.
Lentils only take a few moments to look through for tiny stones but it is important to remember to do this every time! They cook fast and don’t require soaking. Because of this, you can make a pot of soup from scratch to table in less than 30 minutes. The red lentils are smaller and cook even faster than traditional brown, and make a beautiful bright soup. If all you have on hand is the brown they’ll stand in just fine. Cook a little longer, or until the lentils are tender. For a thicker soup cook until you reach the consistency you like. Red lentils will keep breaking down until they form a pasty consistency (as in all day in a slow cooker.)
If you prefer a milder soup, substitute green chilis for jalapenos.
And, should you have any left, it will taste even better the next day. This makes an impressive impromptu meal. Round it out with naan, pita, or crisps and enjoy the aromatic flavors.
4 cups veggie broth or water
2 cup dry red lentils
2 tomatoes, diced
5-6 large okra, cut in rounds
2 carrots, cut into thick coins
1 sweet potato, cubed
1 Tbsp turmeric
1 Tbsp black mustard seeds
1 Tbsp sambar spice (optional)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp tamarind paste or 1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin seeds,
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
6-8 dried curry leaves
In a large saucepan add broth and begin to simmer on medium heat. Add red lentils (dahl), tomatoes, okra, carrots, sweet potatoes, tamarind paste or lemon juice. Stir and bring to a low boil. Reduce the heat slightly and cook until the lentils become soft, about 20 minutes. If it becomes too thick, add more broth or water.
While that simmers, heat oil in a heavy skillet and lightly toast the ground coriander and cumin over a medium heat. Add chile and curry leaves, black mustard seeds, turmeric, salt and fry for 2 minutes. When mustard seeds begin to pop, cover and remove from heat. Add the fried spices to the pan of lentils and veggies. If using, add sambar spice stir in thoroughly.
Variation: For a creamier soup add coconut milk.