After my success with Melissa Clark’s recipe for curried lentils with sweet potatoes and swiss chard from the New York Times Food Section in November 2007, I was tempted to stop cooking with lentils, to quit while I was ahead. There had been so many disappointments, you see. So many lentil-filled meals that were horribly bland, verging on inedible…now that I had found one that worked, should I just stick with it? When Melissa Clark again wrote about the lentil several weeks ago, singing the praises of a a red lentil soup she had whipped up after first tasting it at a friend’s dinner party, I threw caution to the wind and decided to give it a go.
Well, it seems Ms. Clark must have a way with lentils, because her recipe for red lentil soup with lemon, found here in the New York Times Food Section is simple as can be, but utterly delicious. I usually associate good lentil soups with a sort of moody, musky earthiness, a dense blending of spices and flavors. This one, on the other hand, brings to mind nothing more than lemony freshness- a clean, bright flavor that both takes the chill away and makes you feel as though perhaps spring is in the air. It came together in no time at all- a little chopping, a little measuring, throw it all in a pot and let it simmer away for 30 minutes or so. Voila! A quick and easy splash of sunshine and cheerful orange color to brighten your winter days.
Red lentil soup with lemon (makes 1 quart; 4 small servings)
3 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of ground chili powder or cayenne, more to taste
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
1. In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.
2.Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder or cayenne, and sauté for 2 minutes longer.
3. Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.
4. Using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor, purée half the soup then add it back to pot. Soup should be somewhat chunky.
5. Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in lemon juice and cilantro. Serve soup drizzled with good olive oil and dusted lightly with chili powder if desired.