Almost a year since my very first post on this blog, I finally made it - I prepared a recipe for lentil soup! For someone as interested in food as I am now, I don’t remember too many meals from when I was younger, but my first bowl of lentil soup I recall with plenty of detail: a snowy day early in high school, a newly-opened Indian restaurant, its windows covered with steam, on the main square of my small city which at that time offered, food-wise, a wide choice of McDonalds, a Mexican bar and a grey cafeteria with pierogi. Inside the new addition to the short list, a lot of unfamiliar smells, wobbly tables and service that barely spoke Polish handing us printed menus. On it, a word I have, most probably, never heard before - lentil - and a promise of hot, rib-sticking, cheap bowl of soup. I happily ate all the flavorsome liquid but only poked, suspiciously, at the mushy lentils on the bottom and left them there. I haven’t repeated the meal for a couple of years, even though it’d been good enough to stay in my memory to this day. The restaurant relocated and I have yet to find the new spot, and the whole thing was so incredibly unfamiliar that the idea of recreating it at home never came to my mind.
But then I moved to Milan, lived in a dorm with the most horribly equipped kitchen I’ve even cooked in, and missed the thick creams of vegetables that my mom would sometimes make for us on cold evenings. The reason I started making lentil soup was because it asked for absolutely no appliances, no blender, no nothing. Just a chopping board (I believe for the first two months I actually used a plate, as my chopping board disappeared on its way to Italy?), a knife, and a small pot. It was also in that period that I’ve discovered my now-favorite ethnic shops with its shelves lined with colorful pulses in even more colorful plastic bags (but also tahini!!!). I’ve developed a habit of always having them in the kitchen, happy that all the dried legumes would never go bad and that I could keep them on the shelf - the fridge, used by three people, was the size of my backpack.
And yet I’ve never posted a recipe for one. Here’s why: I’ve never managed to achieve the same flavor twice. I like to randomly add spices and just make use of whatever gets in my hands first. I mix and match the produce that makes the base of the soup according to the season and the results of searching the fridge (things easily get lost in the “huge”/normal-sized I have now). So take a note - this recipe is great for when you seem to be out of ingredients. You can really make it with as little as an onion, a tablespoon of curry powder, and a serving of pulses. You can add carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, peppers, leftover coconut milk, stir in yoghurt or finely chopped spinach, then garnish with fried kale or aubergine, shredded coconut, cripsed onion, raisins, or again, leftover cauliflower, or as little as a squeeze of lemon. It’s a go-to on a cold night when you don’t feel like doing anything at all but have to eat anyways. It’s great for when you’re freezing and having another cup of tea just won’t make do. But it’s also fantastic on a warm day, eaten at room temperature. It’s probably one of the most versatile, satisfying and fun things to cook. And if you’re already a lentil soup-lover, share your favorite ingredient combinations, pretty pretty please, so I can try them as well. It’s just not cool to not share amazing stuff with others!!! (sorry for not being cool with you for sooo looong).
(makes 2-3 servings)
1 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp each: cumin seeds, ground coriander, turmeric, mustard seeds
alternatively, 1 tbsp curry powder, see note
juice of 1/2 orange or lemon
1 small carrot, shredded
1/2 cup red lentils
2 cup water
1 stock cube
salt and pepper to taste
to serve, all optional:
cooked rice, coconut flakes, fried kale, raisins
for more ideas, read the post above
note 1: you can replace all the spices with 1 heaping tablespoon of store-bought curry powder, which most people seem to have. but i strongly encourage you to buy the spices, as they cost very little, go a long way, and will really add a lot of flavor to your meals. they are really good with most vegetables, pulses and grains.
note 2: you can use any lentils you like or have, just remember that green and brown lentils cook a little bit longer and don’t become as mushy as the yellow or red variety.
In a medium cooking pot, heat up your oil of choice, add the onion and cook for 10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the spices and cook, stirring to prevent burning, for 2 minutes, until the smell is intensified.
Add the citrus juice and stir to make sure no spices have sticked to the bottom of the pot. Add the carrot and lentils, stir, then add the water + stock cube.
Bring to the boil, turn the heat to medium-low and cook for another 15-20 minutes until the lentils are mushy and the soup has thickened. Add salt and pepper as needed.
Serve with a garnish of choice, or choose to go with no garnish - it’s all good.
The soup will keep for 3 days in the fridge.