My First Lentil Soup: North African Red Lentil Soup
I've had a bag of petite crimson lentils for a while and have been trying to think of some fabulous way to use them. A recent email I received from Cookstr.com featured recipes from Mollie Katzen's newest book Get Cooking: 150 Simple Recipes to Get You Started in the Kitchen (which I won a copy of, and I can't wait to check out all of the recipes in it!). I scanned the email and North African red lentil soup caught my eye. I clicked through to the recipe, gave it a once over, and because it sounded easy enough, especially for someone who's never cooked lentils before, I decided to give it a try.
That's right: I've never cooked lentils before. I've had lentil soups and lentils as side dishes or salad toppers at restaurants, but for some reason I've never cooked them myself... until now.
After a quick trip to the store, I piled all of the necessary ingredients on the countertop. In addition to what the recipe called for, I wanted to add some diced tomatoes. And as the soup making experience continued, I also ended up adding chicken bouillon and tomato paste for more flavor.
I almost thought the whole soup was going to be a disaster. For starters, I may have ruined it right off the bat. You know when you have too many things on the stove, and you do something silly like turn the heat up under a pot you wanted to turn down and vice versa? Well, that's what I did with this soup. I turned down the carrots and onions I was sauteeing for it, and turned up the lentils which were already boiling and supposed to be merely simmering after reaching that boil.
Two minutes later I saw this pale orange mass of lentils growing up from the center of the pot, like a mushy lentil monster. It took me only a few seconds to realize what I had done, and I lowered the heat and stirred the pot, hoping not much damage had been done.
Once that was resolved, I started worrying that the soup wasn't going to taste like much of anything, as the lentils are cooked in 8 cups of water. In hindsight, I think I would have used chicken or vegetable broth, but my addition of the bouillon corrected some of the flavor issue.
Also, the soup ended up being very thick, so maybe the tomato paste was not the greatest idea, but it did perk up the flavor a lot, and I really don't mind a thick, hearty soup.
Below is my version of the recipe, but you can find the original on Cookstr.com.
North African Red Lentil Soup (adapted from Get Cooking: 150 Simple Recipes to Get You Started in the Kitchen by Mollie Katzen via Cookstr.com)
2 1/2 cups red lentils
8 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red or yellow onion, chopped
2 large carrots, diced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 good-sized cloves)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes (not drained)
1/4 cup boiling water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 small can tomato paste
Freshly ground black pepper
Combine the lentils and water in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, and then turn the heat all the way down to the lowest possible setting. Partially cover, and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the lentils are completely soft.
Meanwhile, place a large (10- to 12-inch) skillet over medium heat. After about a minute, add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onion, carrot, cumin, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until the onion is golden and very soft and the carrot is tender.
Transfer the onion mixture to the cooked lentils, and add the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, and then turn the heat all the way down to the lowest possible setting. Dissolve chicken bouillon cubes in boiling water and add to soup. Add diced tomatoes with juices, and stir in contents of can of tomato paste. Partially cover, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the flavors are well blended.
Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and stir to combine. Serve hot.
I really enjoyed having this for lunch with a couple pieces of fresh bread. The flavors seemed to have melded overnight. A comforting bowl of soup is the perfect pick-me-up on a cool, overcast day.
And don't feel like you have to stick to this recipe (I know, sounds odd coming from Ms. Recipe Stickler, herself). I really think you can play around with it a lot and adjust the flavor for what you like. I entertained the idea of adding some crumbled sausage or bacon too but then went without.
Do you have a favorite lentil recipe? I'd love to hear about it!