Monday, December 05, 2011

Red Lentil Soup (and other thoughts)

Ben at the Quabbin Reservoir.
And Birdy. The reservoir is nearby, and is my favorite place to go at this time of year.
Hi! Are you here looking for a tutorial on how to make an origami creche? Well, you won't find it! That's right. I am sparing you my holiday craft enthusiasm today. Sort of. And I say sort of because I am posting a few links for recipes you might find handy as the holiday food-gift season rolls around. Lots of treats here (including my now-famous-at-least-at-home Salted Caramel Popcorn), Peppermint Patties here, and Maple Rosemary Popcorn, which I made last night and which we devoured. I mean, we were in a frenzy of devouring--everybody in the room a noming blur. Ben's friend Ava was so sad to wander in and find it all gone that I almost had to make more. Almost.

Okay, one more holiday thing. It's that there's another games post here, where I discuss Carcassonne Wheel of Fortune and Dominion, both of which continue to be oft-played favorites around here (we even have the Dominion Prosperity expansion now. I know. Maybe alert me if the Dungeons and Dragons fair is coming to your town, and I'll meet you there!) And the other two games I wanted to mention were Agricola,

which is like somebody's acid-trip dream of Settlers of Catan on crack, and which we love immoderately, despite the fact that during a start-to-finish game you will complete 10 or 11 menstrual cycles. And, on a completely different note, Make Me a Cake,

which is like Settlers of Catan only if Settlers of Catan morphed into a puddle of melted vanilla ice cream. This game goes down smooth and easy, even with the littlest players, and the kids love it not because it challenges their strategic thinking (it doesn't) but because it's cake.

Okay. But the red lentil soup. I kind of forgot about this soup for a while, but then remembered it when we traveled to Montreal recently with some friends and had to get 13 people fed on a very tight budget. This soup, with some lovely garnishes of basmati rice and cilantro, was a hit with everyone. It's creamy from the coconut milk and bright with lime, and the texture is comfortingly porridgy. Lovely.

Red Lentil Soup with Carrots and Coconut
Serves 4-6
Active time: 20 minutes; total time 1 hour

This soup is a version of dal, which is a classic Indian lentil stew. It is deliciously fragrant, thanks to the coconut and spices, and the bright yellow turmeric and orange lentils give it a gorgeous color. Serve the lentils over rice, like a stew, or in bowls as soup.

3 tablespoons butter, divided use
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups red lentils, rinsed (you really do need red lentils for this, but they're quite readily available!)
2 bay leaves
6 cups water or chicken broth
1 15-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt; less if you're using broth)
Juice and zest of half a lime
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (optional—don’t worry about this part if it’s a pain)
Plain yogurt and cilantro leaves for serving.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter and the vegetable oil in a soup pot over medium heat and sauté the onion, garlic, ginger, chile, and carrots until the onions are just coloring, around 5 minutes. Stir in the turmeric, lentils, bay leaves, and water or broth, and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until the lentils are soft--around 30 minutes.

Add the coconut milk, salt, and lime juice and zest, and simmer another five minutes. Heat the remaining butter in a small skillet and fry the mustard seeds until they are just popping, around 1 minute. Stir them into the soup, taste for salt and lime juice, and serve topped with plain yogurt and cilantro leaves.

Okay, technically this is not a picture of lentil soup. It's a picture of a smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz's, where I made everyone accompany me on my Jewy pilgrimage. It may or may not be apocryphal that my grandfather asked for this sandwich on his deathbed.


  1. You were in Montreal? That is only 5 hours from where I live! Hee. I guess I was a lot closer to you when we came to the Cape a few summers back. My Hubby made me try a smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz's when we were in was alright...he definitely is in the deathbed category though!

    Thanks for the food gift links, might inspire me to branch out from usual shortbread and fudge.

  2. That soup sounds divine. And I love Montreal. I said something about having something to announce on Facebook (my cat's 12th birthday), and my friend Michelle's response was, "You're making Caramel Popcorn!" You have fans in Atlanta, one of whom is now boiling lady peas all over the stovetop. Happy Monday!

  3. I wish you could come to our house and teach us how to play Dominion because it seems so very convoluted. We tried once and gave up and haven't made another attempt. I did just order Pandemic and Gloom for my boys for Christmas. We tend to have a warped sense of humor around here so I'm especially looking forward to playing Gloom.

    Lentils. Yum.

  4. WV Mama9:45 PM

    Dearling darling Catherine,
    You are my favorite. Just that.

    With love and rainy thoughts from West Virginia,
    WV Mama

  5. Oh Catherine, I just finished reading Waiting for Birdy again. My daughter, my second child, is six weeks old now and I can't believe how absolutely spot on your observations on a second pregnancy and child are. I laughed out loud so many times and was moved to tears more than that. The part about wearing the baby to the store and wondering how people do it and make it all look normal - my gosh, I get that. Don't ever stop writing!
    I can't wait to try this lentil soup. My husband and I love the lentil soup from Dalai Mama.
    Happy holidays to you and your family.

  6. Thank you! I snorted loudly at 10-11 menstrual cycles, and still want to get the game. Also, another recipe to add to my arsenal of I-love-them-all-differently lentil soups, I'm not sure I could survive winter without them. This one looks like it combines all my favorite things. How do some people exist without coconut milk and lime I wonder?

  7. Canadian fan9:21 PM

    You were in Montreal?? When? Why didn't you tell me! Did you have fun? Can you tell that is where I live? You've never been so close and I didn't even know. Yikes, could I sound more like a stalker??

  8. I love the Quabbin Reservoir! I'm so captivated by the idea of the towns that were flooded to create it. Now aqua-ghost towns. I've been meaning to read more about them. There's a story or two in there...

  9. I just opened my latest Chop Chop magazine - how did I miss Catherine Newman, EDITOR??!!? I knew you were writing for them, doing the blog with Ben, but that sounds like a promotion? It's wonderful - congratulations! I love the magazine, and not just becuase it has Birdy in it!

  10. Francine (MaOdiLeo )3:35 PM

    The soup looks fabulous. I will definitely try it. Another inspiring recipe to experiment! Montreal and Schwartz? I hope you had a great time on rue St-Laurent! Next time, if not done yet, you have to try "Frites alors !" where the burgers are really good(and the veggie ones too). And it seems like we are a few Montrealers who like Catherine's writings! Allo!

  11. Personally, I'd love to hear all about your trip to Montreal! We took our (then) 9yo two summers ago when I was pregnant, and had such a marvelous time. Unfortunately, I couldn't eat my weight in good unpasteurized brie due to the whole "bun in the oven" status, but my partner assures me it was delicious. *snarl*

  12. dale in denver1:17 AM

    we had this soup for dinner tonight. it was very tasty. I forgot about the rice - had I remembered, I could see how this pot could have fed an army. I also love your thai lemongrass soup - maybe one day I will remember lime +coconut milk = winning.

    we also had winter beet salad. yum! and I pickled some beets in the fridge. it was a catherine newman kind of weekend...

  13. I made your peppermint patties this weekend with my four-year-old. Plan was to give them to her preschool teachers at the end of this week, before the holiday break. However, I am now faced with the reality that I need to give them out early (tomorrow) or make another batch because there is no way in hell these will last until then. Doesn't matter what time of day it it...every time I pass by the fridge, I help myself to another patty. They are insanely wonderful!

  14. Schwartz's??? OMG it's a Montreal icon! I grew up in Montreal but haven't been back in 8 years, I still have recurring dreams about a smoked meat from there followed by a giant piece of cheesecake from Chenoy's. Mouth seriously watering...

  15. We made the lentil soup tonight and wow, it's another winner. We even toasted the mustard seeds. It was so delicious, even though it's barely chilly outside this far south. Thanks for sharing.

  16. I'm going to make that red lentil soup for the Zu! I just read your Alumni Magazine article in our Zu History. It was amazing and poetizes some of my feelings for the Zu so well.

    My friend is an avid Dominion Prosperity player and enjoyed your description.

  17. I just made this soup for the second time tonight, and I love it as much as the first time. Thanks for yet another amazing recipe!