Lately, I’ve been wondering if people can read my mind. Because every time I decide to cook something, I go to the grocery store and find that the recipe’s key ingredient is sold out. Split peas when I wanted to make split pea soup. Barley the day I’d settled on beef barley. And, last Sunday, after I’d spent the morning selecting the perfect mulligatawny soup recipe, I discovered a shortage of masoor dal at the grocery store. The spot where the bags of pretty, coral pink lentils usually reside — between the, ahem, fully stocked sacks of split peas and barley — was empty.
(Side note: if it seems like I’ve been making a lot of soup, well, what can I say? It doesn’t require any fiddly cooking techniques, it wards off the winter chill, it’s a healthy one pot meal full of vegetables, and, best of all, it’s easy to double in quantity, ensuring you have leftovers for the week (more on this particular quality below). Soup, I love you.)
After striking out at another grocery store, I headed to Whole Foods for my second visit of the day (!) where I found a bulk bin of red lentils. By this time, I was in a hurry, and when I fitted a plastic bag to the spout and yanked the handle to release the beans, the bag broke free and tiny lentils cascaded. Everywhere. And when I say everywhere, I mean flooding onto the floor, the shelves, settling on the tops of boxes, down my coat — down my bra — in my handbag. (In fact, I just checked and found a few lentils still at the bottom of my bag.) The clerk stocking shelves right next to me witnessed the whole escapade. His heart must have sunk at the mess, but he couldn’t have been nicer about it.
Anyway, once you have the red lentils in hand, this recipe from Epicurious is a snap. It involves a lot of chopped onions — more than you might think necessary — a lot of garlic, a lot of spices and the lovely red lentils that you’ve worked so hard to find. Simmer everything until the lentils softly disintegrate, lose their lovely pink color and turn a less appealing shade of brown, and blend into a silky purée with your handy immersion blender. At the very end, stir in some finely diced cooked chicken — you could use the leftovers of your Sunday roast, though I admit I used a surprisingly moist rôtisserie chicken bought at my lentil-free neighborhood D’Agostino. The recipe also calls for a cup of coconut milk, and I was poised to add it! But when I tasted the soup, I found it rich enough, already satisfyingly thick, so in deference to my waistline (it’s January, after all) I left it out. I bet it would add a decadent creaminess, though, so if you make this recipe feel free to use it and then come back and tell me what I’m missing.
Finish the soup with a generous squeeze of lemon juice, which tempers the heady spices, and serve over basmati rice. The rice, I must note, stretches this nutritious one-pot meal even further, which means that if you’ve doubled the recipe — as some of us with a mania for stocking the freezer are wont to do — you’ll have enough for a lot of meals (so far I’ve had three, but it’s only Wednesday). They say the definition of eternity is a ham and two people, but I think it just might be a double batch of this soup. Not that I’m complaining.
Adapted from Epicurious.com
With its bouquet of warm spices, mulligatawny soup may fool you into thinking it’s Indian, but the name (and dish) are actually a British invention — much like the word “curry” — a mangling of Tamil that translates to “pepper water.” There are many variations — some include cream, chopped granny smith apples, celery, cooked lamb, turkey, and/or almonds — but this one achieves that rare balance of healthy and satisfying (not to mention frugal!).
Serves a lot of people (eight?). Double at your own risk.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lb onions, chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoons round coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
2 cups dried red lentils, rinsed
8 cups chicken broth
2 cups diced cooked chicken
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk (optional)
Cooked basmati rice
In a heavy large pot, heat the oil over medium flame and sauté the onions until they start to turn color, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to release its fragrance. Add the ground spices and bay leaves and stir for a minute. Add the lentils, stirring them into the spices. Add the chicken broth, bring to boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the lentils fall apart, about 20 minutes.
Discard the bay leaves. With an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. Stir in the chicken and coconut milk (if using). Taste and adjust seasonings. Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon, taste and add a few more drops if necessary. Serve over the basmati rice, passing more lemon wedges at the table.
P.S. This is the 500th post on my blog!