Red Lentil Soup with Tomato, Garlic and Cumin
for a Cold Winter’s Night
Do you remember the original Time-Life Foods of the World Cookbooks, published in the late 1960’s and 70’s? Such treasures with their colorful photos, broad range of foods and well-written prose from great culinary writers and chefs. These books inspired me to explore the world through food. The Middle Eastern cookbook was one of my first cookbooks. In its pages I learned about hummus, falafels and the traditional Egyptian Red Lentil Soup Shurit Ads. Easy and delicious, this soup quickly became one of my favorites. And remained so for many years.
A few months ago I pulled out my old recipe box and made the recipe once again. This time, though, with disappointing results. That recipe’s put-everything-in the-pot-and-boil-until-done method could use some refining. Over the past few weeks I’ve done just that, giving Red Lentil Soup an upgrade. Serendipitously, it’s rather perfect timing for cooking with lentils. As 2016 has been declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Pulses.
Taking only about 30 minutes to soften, light red to bright orange lentils have the shortest cooking time among the dozens of lentil varieties. Being already split and hulled, red lentils completely lose their shape when cooked; making them the perfect lentils for Indian dal and many soups and stews.
- Age matters with red lentils. The older the red lentils the longer their cooking time. Recently, some older red lentils I had required closer to an hour to soften.
- Be forewarned: unless you rinse and drain red lentils just before adding them to your soup, they’ll mercilessly clump together.
Fire roasted tomatoes
Always on the lookout for a sale, I delighted in finding a bargain on organic fire roasted tomatoes at our local co-op. That these tomatoes were seasoned with adobo or green chilies, I didn’t expect to be a problem. Sooo wrong.
FYI fire roasted tomatoes seasoned with adobo or green chilies are HOT. Even when diluted in Red Lentil Soup with 16 cups of stock and an additional can of unsweetened coconut milk, these red-hot mamas never gave up their heat. Perfect for those of you who prefer your food HOT. Not so much for the rest of us.
Pulses you ask?
Here’s how the International Year of Pulses website describes them:
“Pulses, also known as grain legumes, are a group of 12 crops that includes dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils. They are high in protein, fibre, and various vitamins, provide amino acids, and are hearty crops. They are most popular in developing countries, but are increasingly becoming recognized as an excellent part of a healthy diet throughout the world.”
Red Lentil Soup with Tomato, Garlic and Cumin
Leftover Red Lentil Soup becomes even more delicious after an overnight stay in the fridge. When you have the time, you’ll get the best flavor using your own homemade vegetable stock.
Gluten-Free and dairy-free, with an optional yogurt garnish.
Makes about 12 cups Printer-Friendly Recipe
Total Time 1 hour, or more depending upon how long the lentils take to cook
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, ¼ inch dice (2 ½ -3 cups)
2-4 carrots, 1/3 inch dice (1 ½ cups)
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt OR 2 teaspoons if using unsalted vegetable stock
½ teaspoon ground chili powder
Dozen twists freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon Aleppo or other red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
1 14.5 ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
8 cups homemade, unsalted vegetable stock
1 ¼ cups red lentils
Juice of ½ lemon, or more to taste
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Plain, unsweetened yogurt
- In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, stir in the diced onion. Cover the pot and cook 7 minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. Stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the diced carrot and crushed garlic. Sauté 5 minutes.
- Blend in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, chili powder, freshly ground pepper, Aleppo pepper and bay leaves. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Stir in the diced tomatoes with their liquid. Cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the vegetable stock.
- Rinse and drain the lentils. Stir them into the pot. Bring the soup to a boil. Partially cover the pot. Lower the heat so the soup gently simmers until the lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove the bay leaves. Use an immersion blender (or regular blender) to purée only about 1/3rd of the soup so that it remains chunky.
- Just before serving Red Lentil Soup, stir in the fresh lemon juice and cilantro. Garnish each serving with an optional dollop of plain yogurt.