Friday, May 18, 2012

The Lentil Soup

I've been working on a lentil soup that I liked for a long time. I started with Martha Rose Shulman's "Pureed Lentil Soup" from Mediterranean Light, since it's one of my favorite cookbooks. Her soups are great, and this is one of my favorite cookbooks, but I find that I often start by making her soup recipes exactly as written, then increasing the amount of spices and sometimes adding more spices as I make them in the future, developing a soup that's just more to my taste.

This is actually a very fast soup once you get the hang of it. I can come home, and an hour later have this soup and a batch of biscuits on the table.

I'm assuming a basic familiarity with toasting and grinding spices--you can substitute ground spices for the whole ones that I toast and grind--it's just that my market sells those particular ones whole, so that's what I have in my cabinet!

The Lentil Soup

1 tbsp. or so olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
8 garlic cloves, minced
3 stalks of celery, chopped, if using water
2 cups lentils (green or brown)
2 quarts water or stock (I prefer stock)
1 bay leaf
1 parmesan rind (optional)

juice of one lemon

2 tsp. coriander
2 tsp. fenugreek
2 tsp. black mustard seed

3/4 tsp. ground white pepper
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. agave syrup, honey, or sugar
1 tbsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. turmeric
3/4 tsp. paprika
dash of sesame oil

salt to taste (if using water or unsalted stock, about 2 tsp. salt)

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pot and sauté the onion until starting to brown. If you're using celery, add the celery and sauté another few minutes. Add the garlic and sauté briefly, then add the water or stock and the lentils, the bay leaf, and the parmesan rind. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook about 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Stir often, since the soup may get pretty thick.

Juice the lemon, and add to the pot.

Then: put the coriander, fenugreek, and black mustard seed in a small pan and toast on the stove. (You'll toast them over low to medium heat until they become very aromatic.) Then grind the spices in a mortar and pestle. Add to the pot.

Add all the rest of the ingredients to the pot, except for the salt--wait until the lentils are tender to add the salt.

If you like, you can puree the soup--we usually do--then taste and correct the spices if needed. You can also puree only some of it, or skip pureeing it.