red lentils


When reports started percolating that the blizzard of the century was going to descend Monday evening, I knew I wanted to make soup. I saw myself cuddled up on the couch watching snowflakes fall, then building a snowman and coming home to a bowl of soup.

I had red lentils in the house and stocked up on carrots, celery, onions, coriander and lemon because I never met a lentil soup that isn’t friends with fresh coriander and lemon.

Melissa Clark’s recipe for lentil soup that appeared in The New York Times about six years ago has been my go-to recipe since I first encountered it. It is delicious, simple and the perfect introduction to lentils, especially if they are a legume that never crossed your radar screen. But, when I woke up Tuesday morning, prepared and psyched for stockpiled snow, I discovered the blizzard hadn’t quite materialized in Manhattan. There was a mere dusting on the streets which meant there was really no reason not to go to work. But before resuming regular weekday mode, I wanted to make my soup and in line with the blizzard’s mood, I had no interest in following instructions.

Instead I wanted my soup to reflect happenstance: whatever I felt like throwing in the pot. That’s the advantage of lentils, they can adapt to almost any conglomeration of spices, herbs, and vegetables.

I chopped up a red onion, 4 carrots, 3 stalks of celery, fresh coriander and rinsed the lentils. Prepping is key when cooking in a 4×4′ kitchen that has approximately 12 inches of workable counter space. After all my little bowls were laid out, I poured olive oil into the pot, along with salt and pepper and added 3 crushed cloves of garlic and the onions. I stirred while the onions morphed to translucency.

Then I perused the spice rack and took out the cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, ginger, and red pepper flakes. I sprinkled what amounted to 1/2 teaspoon of each spice into the palm of my hands, rubbed them together and let the spice float into the pot. I read once that that technique releases the flavor. I stirred it all together over a low flame, but I admit I was not bowled over by the flavor wafting into the air.

In went the carrots, celery, lentils and fresh coriander. I stirred some more and thought a squirt or two of tomato paste might be of assistance.

a little bit of everything

I poured in two 14 ounce cans of chicken broth. It didn’t look like there was enough liquid so I added water until my eyeballs said “Yes that will yield five healthy bowls of soup”.  I brought the concoction to a boil, turned the heat to low and let it simmer partially covered for another 45 minutes and then went after it with the immersion blender.

I had concerns that my winging method would yield a tasteless overburdened glop. It wasn’t. It was addictive. soup