Monday, February 13, 2012

We used to like pea soup, but we gave it up for lentil

Peter devoted considerable kitchen time to this ambitious and rather magnificent dinner. Here he is in his latest guest posting.

This recipe began as health writer and cookbook author Jane Brody’s straightforward adaptation, published in Jane Brody’s Good Food Book, of a soup that had originally appeared in Bon Appétit. That particular cookbook—Ms. Brody’s first—based its nutritional information on the “food pyramid” unveiled by the FDA over 30 years ago as a guideline for Americans to adopt a healthier diet. The basic premise was that pasta, rice, bread, and grains should make up the bulk of the calories we consume, with fruits and vegetables the next rung up on the pyramid, followed by fish, poultry, and meats.
Those of us who crave potatoes, pasta and bread rejoiced when the FDA seemed to signal that carbohydrates were our greatest allies in eating healthier diets. Subsequently, of course, we all learned that not all carbohydrates are created equal, and that refined, white carbohydrates should be limited as part of our daily consumption, whereas whole grain carbs are salutary.
I began cooking from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book on a regular basis in the 1980’s upon receiving it as a gift from my former Wolf Trap Opera Company colleague, and dear friend, Eve Smith, who selected it upon learning that Stephen had been given a diagnosis of high cholesterol. While we had no idea at the time that the nutritional philosophy behind much of the book was to prove unsound, some of its recipes, including the original version of her lentil and brown rice soup, became staples in our diets. In its dingy brown color, that soup would never win any beauty contests, but it was hearty, filling, cheap, and extremely easy to prepare: basically, all that needs tidying up after prepping it is a knife and a cutting board, since all that’s involved until serving time is putting all the ingredients in a large pot, and simmering everything gently for about 50 minutes until it’s time to garnish the soup and devour it. As such, it’s the perfect dish to prepare on an inclement winter weekend afternoon while listening to a favorite radio program. Served with a salad of mixed greens or a simple dish of braised greens alongside, preparing dinner couldn’t be easier. Best of all, this is one of the recipes in Jane Brody’s cookbook that has withstood the test of time in its nutritional integrity: in its combination of a legume with a whole grain and vegetables, and absence of saturated fat, this is a very healthy dish. You can find her original recipe here:
The flavor profile of Ms. Brody’s dish, with dried thyme, basil, and oregano, and garnishes of chopped parsley and a glug of cider vinegar, could be deemed, “vaguely Mediterranean.” I would always toss leftover cheese rinds into the pot for an added flavor boost if I had them on hand; I’d sometimes switch out a shot of fresh lemon juice or balsamic for the cider vinegar; I’d frequently add a swirl of EVOO to garnish each bowl; and I’d always pass grated Parmesan or Romano as a final garnish at table.
All well and good, but my growing love for Indian foods and vegetable curries led me to do an internet search for a variant on Jane Brody’s lentil and brown rice soup that would send it to southeast Asia. No such luck: I found plenty of recipes for Indian lentil soups, and for curried lentils and veggies, but nothing that included brown rice. Undaunted, I made up the following. You really can’t go wrong with either recipe: I just happen to prefer my own variant. For one thing, unless you are either a vegetarian or a devotee of healthy eating, the original recipe, however, simple and demure, might remind you of some wholesome, modest country cousin, causing you to ask, “Where’s the beef?”
But my Indian reinterpretation has a complexity of intoxicating aromas as it simmers that will fill your kitchen, and that will carry over into a depth of flavor far superior to the original. One of the beauties of Indian cuisine is that the breadth of flavors in many of its recipes derives from the seasonings, with the addition of relatively little fat (in this case, virtually none of it saturated if you use nonfat yoghurt for your garnish, or leave it out altogether). It likewise allows you go go easy on the salt without the dish seeming bland. If you like plenty of heat, feel free to add some of the ribs and seeds from the jalapeno, or increase the amount of cayenne. No matter what, this is a dish that even carnivores and omnivores will appreciate, and the advantage in making it ahead is that the flavors will only deepen with time.
Like most soups and stews, this one is endlessly adaptable to individual tastes and larders. If, for instance, you’d prefer cubes of peeled butternut squash rather than carrots, go for it. I myself have added cubed eggplant on occasion, and, if you have leftover braised or sautéed greens, adding them in at the end will truly make this a complete meal, especially if you serve it with bread (I highly recommend both Trader Joe’s garlic naan and frozen paratha). If you don’t have leftover greens, the kale salad below, adapted from Aarti Sequeiro, is an excellent foil to this soup, as well as authentically Indian.
--1 cup brown or tiny green lentils (note: do not use quick-cooking red or yellow lentils)
--1 ½ cups brown basmati rice
--2 32 oz. cartons of either low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth, or vegetable stock (I recommend Trader Joe’s, the only commercial vegetable broth I’ve found with real flavor)
--2 cups water (possibly more if needed—see recipe)
--1 28 oz. or 35 oz. can diced tomatoes, with the juices
--2 medium large carrots, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, and thinly sliced (a heaping cup)
--2 medium ribs of celery sliced (include feathery tops), about a heaping cup
--1 medium onion, diced (about a heaping cup)
--3 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
--1 large piece ginger root, peeled and grated (about 2 tablespoons)
--1 large jalapeno, ribbed, seeded, and finely chopped
--1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
--1 tablespoon Garam Masala
--2 teaspoons ground cumin
--2 teaspoons ground coriander
--1 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom
--2 teaspoons ground Turmeric
--1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
--1 ½ teaspoons cayenne pepper (or to taste)
--1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
--1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves, or whole cloves
--2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
--kosher salt
--1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
--2 Tablespoons whole Garam Masala, freshly ground in a spice mill (whole Garam Masala is available at Indian markets, and through purveyors such as Penzey’s or Savory Spice), or use 2 tablespoons of freshly opened ground Garam Masala
--1 generous cup of plain yoghurt (any kind: Greek style is especially good here)
--juice of ½ lime
--1/3 cup of finely chopped cilantro or Italian parsley leaves
--Couple dashes of hot sauce of your choice (optional)
1. In a large soup pot, combine lentils, basmati rice, broth, water, tomatoes and their juices, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno. Brint to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, and add all seasonings except salt. Partially cover, and cook for 50 minutes, until lentils and brown rice are thoroughly cooked. Season with kosher salt to taste (begin with a tablespoon, then add more as you deem necessary). The soup’s consistency may be thicker than you’d ideally want: if so, thin it to the desired consistency with more hot broth or boiling water before seasoning with salt. Soup can (and arguably should) be made in advance, cooled to room temperature, and chilled for up to three days (it also freezes well for up to 3 months).
2.) When ready to serve, return to a gentle bubble of a simmer if soup has been made in advance and chilled. Otherwise, remove soup pot from heat while you prepare garnish of finishing spice: in a small saute pan, place 1/2 cup of EVOO and freshly ground Garam Masala. On low heat, bring to a gentle simmer until spices are bubbling and aromatic, about 30 seconds to a minute. Remove pan from heat. Ladle soup into warm bowls, and spoon a tablespoon of your spiced finishing oil into each. Pass herbed yoghurt as an additional, optional garnish at table, along with Major Grey’s chutney: a tablespoon of either or both these finishing touches is a lovely enhancement, but not strictly necessary. Another lovely compliment is warm naan bread or paratha.

--1 bunch kale (any kind, but Red Russian and Black Kale are particularly good)--juice of one lemon, divided
--1/4 cup of EVOO, plus a generous tablespoon
--2 teaspoons of honey or pomegranate molasses
--1 ½ teaspoons salt
--freshly ground black pepper to taste
--Dash of your favorite hot sauce (optional)
--1 ripe mango, diced
--2 generous tablespoons of salted and roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) or Sunflower kernels, or chopped pistachios.
1.) Stem the kale (you can discard the stems, or freeze them to add to homemade vegetable stock at a later date). Wash and thoroughly dry the leaves. Stack them, roll them up like cigars, and thinly slice them into chiffonnade ribbons. Add to a large bowl with half the lemon juice, a generous tablespoon of EVOO, and a teaspoon of salt. Using your fingers, massage all the ingredients together very thoroughly for about five minutes: you will notice the fibers in the kale leaves breaking down and wilting.
2.) In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the remaining lemon juice, honey or pomegranate molasses, black pepper, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and hot sauce (if using). Whisk in ¼ cup of EVOO, and thoroughly blend dressing.
3.) Add diced mango to bowl with massaged kale. Pour in dressing, and toss thoroughly to combine (Salad can be made up to a day in advance at this point and stored in refrigerator).
4.) When serving, bring salad to room temperature if you’ve made it in advance. Garnish with pepitas, sunflower kernels, or pistachios, and serve.


Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

totally divine... lentil soup.. wow!

Andrea the Kitchen Witch said...

I was just thinking the other day that lentil soup would be good. Think I'll give this a whirl!

Jenn said...

Fantastic post, Peter! I think this soup sounds wonderful - it;s packed with lots of delicious flavors!

My Little Space said...

A mouthwatering version of soup. All I need is a few slices of french bread. Yummmm....

Rebecca Subbiah said...

lovely soup like dal thanks for visiting my blog

Catherine said...

Lentils are a favorite of mine and are so versatile. Beautiful dish. Blessings, Catherine

Mary said...

The soup sounds wonderful and the salad would be a natural for us. Have you ever tried red lentils? I don't find them wildly different in taste and I much prefer the color. I hope you guys have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Kitchen Belleicious said...

I must try this lentil version. It looks fabulous

Georgia | The Comfort of Cooking said...

This looks delicious, warm and hearty. Just right for a cold winter day. Thanks for sharing!

Pam said...

This sounds really good. I have Jane Brody's Good Food Book somewhere in my pile of cookbooks and will be digging it out. It's a perfect book for this stage of the game! Thanks for reminding me of it!!! Way to go, Peter!

Chris said...

Both sound quite good. Laughing at the post title, too funny.x

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