When it comes to the kitchen, winter is just about synonymous with lentil soup. Strangely, though, sometimes I completely forget about lentils for a while. I was trying to figure out why that is. I didn’t grow up eating lentils, so it’s not been something I naturally gravitated towards. But I think it’s mostly because for a long time, I didn’t know how to incorporate these little gems into my cooking.
Fortunately, that changed. Red lentils, with their appealing warm color, fast cooking time, and high protein content, are great to incorporate into meals, and soup is an ideal way to consume them. (Cooking them into your tomato-based pasta sauce is another.) One of my favorite red lentil soup recipes is from Heidi Swanson’s gorgeous website, 101 Cookbooks. I’ve made it more than once, and it delights every time.
Ultimately, I wanted a soup tailor-made for my own preferences. My red lentil soup below is Indian-spiced and packed with veggies, because that’s how I roll. Whereas the 101 Cookbooks red lentil soup recipe gave me the inspiration to incorporate curry powder and split peas, I got the idea to incorporate mustard seed from reading Taste of the East; a cinnamon stick, from an Indian cooking class I once took in DC years ago; and the orange peel, from an old Bon Appetit recipe that had absolutely nothing to do with this one. Go figure.
Time: 45 minutes
1 T sesame oil
1 t mustard seed
1-inch stick cinnamon
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T ginger, minced
1 t orange peel, grated
1.5 c sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch chunks (about 1 small sweet potato)
2 c cauliflower florets, chopped (about 1/2 head of cauliflower)
6 c vegetable broth
1 c red lentils
1/4 c green split peas
1 T curry powder
2 1/2 – 3 cups chopped kale (about 1 small-med bunch of kale)
1 1/4 t sea salt
1/2 c fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
1 c quinoa or rice (optional)
- In a medium-large pot, add sesame oil, mustard seeds, and cinnamon stick and heat on medium-high. Swirl the spices around in the oil to flavor the oil.
- When the mustard seeds begin to pop, add the onion, garlic, ginger, and orange peel. Saute 2-3 minutes, stirring and adjusting the heat accordingly so the ingredients cook well but the garlic and ginger don’t stick to the bottom of the pan or burn.
- Add the sweet potato and cauliflower. Stir and cook for about five more minutes.
- Rinse the lentils and split peas (I usually just put them in a fine-mesh colander and run cold water over them). Add the vegetable broth, red lentils, green split peas, and curry powder to the pot. Let simmer for 20 minutes, partially covered.
- [If you will be serving the soup with quinoa or another grain such as rice, get that going. For quinoa, rinse the quinoa and simmer in 2 c water, covered, for 20 minutes. For rice or another grain, follow the specific cooking instructions for the type of grain you're using. Note that brown rice will take longer.]
- Add the kale and sea salt to the soup and cook for 5-10 more minutes, until the split peas are tender.
- Remove cinnamon stick. Taste and add salt if needed. Serve in bowls over a scoop of quinoa or your favorite grain, or with a big hunk of multigrain bread. Top with cilantro.
How have you taken any basic ingredient or recipe and made it your own?