“Do you have a kinder, more adaptable friend in the food world than soup? Who soothes you when you are ill? Who refuses to leave you when you are impoverished and stretches its resources to give a hearty sustenance and cheer? Who warms you in the winter and cools you in the summer? Yet who also is capable of doing honor to your richest table and impressing your most demanding guests? Soup does its loyal best, no matter what undignified conditions are imposed upon it.” Judith Martin (Miss Manners)
A Month of Soup
Let’s begin the New Year with soup—friendly, kind, adaptable, impressive, soothing soup.
Humble in origin, homemade soups are naturally restorative, aromatic and healing all through the year. During the winter they are most especially so as the cold weather has us craving long-cooked, deeply flavored and profoundly nurturing foods such as soups, stews, root vegetables, legumes and hearty greens.
For the next few weeks, my posts will feature soup: from a Quick Black Bean to a hearty Chicken, from Sweet Potato Chowder to Creamy Miso with Vegetables and Soba Noodles. Soup is for sharing, and these recipes, depending upon the size of your family of course, will be sufficient for at least a couple of meals.
Curried Red Lentil & Sweet Potato Soup
Today’s recipe is one of my favorites, a Curried Red Lentil & Sweet Potato Soup that meets all of the criteria for comfort, health and taste.
Red lentils cook relatively quickly and create a savory base for the equally nutrient-rich and pleasantly sweet, sweet potatoes. In this soup I use the softer and more deeply colored variety of sweet potatoes known as “yams.”
A Rose Is a Rose Is a Rose
. . . though the same can certainly not be said for spices. There is so much variation based on where they are sourced, how they are processed and stored, and their age.
A number of years ago a friend opened her spice drawer and asked me to smell her special curry powders. She had purchased them by mail order from Penzeys Spices in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. I had no idea there were so many different blends of curry powder. I was hooked and immediately looked through the Penzeys catalog to order my own.
If you’re unfamiliar with Penzeys Spices let me introduce you to this company that now has stores around the country and an informative online and print catalog. At Penzeys you will find the most wonderful curry powders as well as the individual spices if you want to prepare your own blend. My three favorites are their Sweet Curry Powder, Hot Curry Powder and Maharajah Curry Powder (with a heady dose of saffron). I use a mixture of all three along with Garam Masala** when I prepare this soup to achieve the depth and roundness of flavor not usually available from supermarket spices.
In addition to curry powders, try some of Penzeys cinnamon. Wow! Each variety is intensely flavorful and fragrant. You can most blissfully smell and taste the difference.
Penzeys also features chili peppers and powders, Turkish Bay Leaves and pink, green, white and black peppercorns and all manner of spices, herbs, blends and extracts. Have fun!
So quick and easy and so flavorful and nurturing, Curried Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup warms the soul and delights the palate with its pleasant spiciness, aroma and blend of savory and sweet.
Yield: 16 cups
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, ¼-inch dice
2-inch piece fresh ginger, finely minced
3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons curry powder or a mixture of curry powders*
1 teaspoon Garam Masala**
1 ½ teaspoons fennel seed
2 Turkish bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds sweet potatoes or yams, peeled, ½-inch dice (stored in water
to keep from turning brown)
1½ cups red lentils
1½ tablespoons sea salt
Garnish with scallions, cilantro and yoghurt
Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil and then the onion. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent and beginning to color. Stir in the minced ginger and garlic, the curry powder, fennel, bay and pepper. Add the well-drained sweet potatoes or yams and stir to coat them with the spices.
Wash and drain the lentils just before you use them as they mercilessly stick together within seconds of being rinsed. Add the lentils to the pot along with 9 cups of water. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the soup simmers, and cook it partially covered for 20 minutes. Stir in the sea salt and cook another 5 minutes until the lentils and potatoes are soft.
For a chunky soup, use a blender to puree 2 cups of the soup and return it to the pot. Puree all of the soup if you prefer a creamier texture. Adjust the seasonings to taste and serve garnished with a swirl of yoghurt and some thinly sliced scallion and coarsely chopped cilantro.
* I use a mixture of 1 tablespoon Sweet Curry, 1½ teaspoons Hot Curry and 1½ teaspoons Maharajah Curry from Penzey’s Spices.
** Garam Masala is a blend of coriander, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, kalonji, caraway, cloves, ginger and nutmeg.
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