January 6, 2011

a good appetite for red lentil soup

I have cooked many of New York Times columnist Melissa Clark's recipes, from wild salmon croquettes to baked beans to roasted broccoli (boy, do I love roasted broccoli) to olive-oil granola to sour cherry pie. I'm a fan of this lady. Her food tends to be simple, yet sophisticated, without requiring too much fuss. Plus, her recipes have always worked for me. Me! Someone who is constitutionally incapable of following a recipe as written.

When my thoughtful sister gave me Clark's newest cookbook In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, I spent a good hour on Christmas day reading her stories and making mental notes about recipes to try. She has an entire chapter called Things With Cheese, full of snacky dishes that would work perfectly for dinner parties (phyllo and feta cheese torte, port glazed Stilton with homemade oat biscuits) or a weeknight when you want something good but fast (macaroni/peas/bacon/creme fraiche/cheese, yes please.) I want to make nearly everything in the chapter called The Farmers' Market and me, especially the garlicky sesame-cured broccoli salad, the raw kale salad with chiles and pecorino and the nutty brown butter corn bread. And she has chapter after chapter of all sorts of intriguing preparations for seafood, chicken, pork and beef. Roasted chicken with apples, gin and coriander, you are in my near future.

I started, though, with Clark's recipe for red lentil soup with lemon. Lentils, the cupboard standby that can be transformed into a hearty, virtuous lunch or dinner in no time flat, are always on hand in our house. Puy lentils may be my favorite, but I'm an equal opportunity lentil lover -- especially when the clock struck 8 and I had no plans for dinner. Luckily, her soup is simple and quick to make. Because it's Melissa Clark, she has thought about how to add good flavor: cooking a little tomato paste with the aromatics, adding ground cumin for fragrance and lots of lemon juice for acidity. The end result is a light, zippy, healthy little bowl of soup that I thoroughly enjoyed. I predict this one will be a staple.

Red lentil soup with lemon
adapted from Melissa Clark, In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite
Yields 6 servings

I halve her recipe since there are only two of us, but I double the cumin since I love that flavor. This soup tends toward the bland without a final hit of salt and acidity, so don't leave out the lemon juice and be generous with the salt.

One final tip: I got tired of opening a can of tomato paste to use only 1-2 tablespoons at a time and having it languish in the fridge until a colony of white fuzz took over. It turns out that tomato paste keeps nicely in the freezer, if you divide it into 1 tablespoon servings and wrap it securely in plastic wrap. Or you could buy tubes of tomato paste that people love so much, but I'm my mom's daughter and I prefer not to spend $5 for a teeny tube of imported tomato paste when I can get a nice big can of organic California tomato paste for $2.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin 
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
big pinch cayenne pepper, plus more to taste
1 quart unsalted chicken or vegetable broth
1 cups red lentils
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
juice of half a lemon, plus more to taste
handful of chopped fresh cilantro, mint or parsley
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

In a soup pot, warm the oil over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Add the onions and garlic and cook until golden, about 4 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper and cayenne and cook for 2 minutes longer. Add the broth, lentils, and carrots. Add 1-2 cups of additional water, depending on how thick you like the soup. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover and cook over medium-low. Simmer until the carrots and lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt. Using an immersion blender, puree half the soup. It should be somewhat chunky, not smooth. Stir in the lemon juice and herbs. Serve, passing olive oil for drizzling and additional cayenne if you like.


Laura said...

Melissa Clark rocks! I need a go-to, quick, healthy lentil soup so I'll definitely make this. I'm not sure if my grocery store carries red lentils, though.

Kim said...

Laura -- I found red lentils in the bulk section of several grocery stores, including Whole Foods. I hope you like the soup.

Lan said...

Whoa! It sounds yum!yum!yum! Wish that your father likes lentil and soup. Thanks, anyhow.

Jess said...

Made this twice now -- once using chicken broth and water and once using all water. The version with chicken broth was good, but the all water soup was very bland (not a surprise, just saying). I also accidentally doubled the tomato paste one time, and really liked the extra tomato flavor! So I'll keep doing that. This is a nice soup, healthy but filling. I might have to check out the cookbook it comes from.