Thursday, January 24, 2008

Soup of The Week: Can't Win 'Em All

This week's soup was another one that I've had on my radar for forever. See, I use the computer program Mastercook to organize a lot of my recipes. I put a lot of them into the program, but mostly I use it to import recipes I see online that pique my interest. And then, of course, I tend to forget about them. Not so with my new soup revolution, slowly we're making our way through the pile, and this week's was something a little different for us.

Autumn Harvest Red Lentil Soup caught my eye initially because of the red lentils. I've never cooked with them, but I've wanted to. The combination of vegetables also intrigued me, and I couldn't recollect having a similar soup before. I picked up the red lentils on a recent shopping trip, and since I had everything else on hand, this was the soup of the week. As I started putting the soup together, I was faced with a few minor decisions, and also a wonderful aroma from the stove.

My first decision came with the second ingredient, 5 1/2 cups of water. Water? I wanted this soup to be full of flavor, and while I'm sure the creator knew what she was doing, I have a beautiful veggie stock in the freezer, and I decided to use that instead. I ended up using 4 cups of veggie stock and 2 cups of water, since the stock was a little concentrated. The soup began with cooking the lentils in water-or in my case, the stock. Oh how disappointed I was to check on the lentils later only to discover they'd lost their beautiful red color! Meanwhile, a second pot had been readied for simmering the vegetables to soften. When I added the cumin and coriander, a fabulous scent wafted up and totally permeated the entire house. I thought briefly of using whole seeds and toasting them, but then decided to just use the ground spices. In retrospect, I really wonder how that toasting would enhance the flavor of the soup.

The lentils were then pureed with my immersion blender. As I continued adding vegetables to the simmering pot, I found that I did not have the parsnip called for. So instead I added an extra carrot, and then, when digging for that carrot, I found a few lonely radishes, and decided they would match that turnip texture wise, and flavor wise since they were on the sweet side. So those went in as well. Once the vegetables were softened, I added them to the pureed lentils and gave them a few minutes to combine flavors. A little seasoning went in, as well as a splash of lemon juice and a few handfuls of baby spinach leaves.

The soup was lovely, the color was fantastic, and I thought it tasted great- like no soup we'd had before, and I loved that. I portioned out about half of the soup to send to my parents for dinner- they'd been travelling home in less that stellar conditions, and thought they'd appreciate a pot of warm soup when they arrived home. (They certainly did.) I was excited for dinner that night, and as my family gazed into their bowls, I knew this was going to tank. The kids took a bite or two, and then spent the rest of the meal dunking crackers in and nibbling on their muffins. Andy didn't finish his bowl either- he thought the soup was much too sweet for his tastes. And it was sweet- that butternut squash I'd used was so sweet! But I loved the soup! Sadly, I will probably not be making it again, unless Andy goes out of town sometime and I have a hankering.

One note on the ingredients. Don't skimp on the coriander. Leave things in and out according to your tastes, but the coriander really was the essential ingredient. It added a floral-citrusy note that even the lemon juice could not match. In fact, my parents called later on to ask what the dominant spice was, because it really made the soup what it was.

Autumn Harvest Red Lentil Soup

Recipe By The Healthy Hedonist, Myra Kornfeld

1 cup red lentils -- sorted and rinsed
5 1/2 cups water
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions -- cut into small dice (2 cups)
4 garlic cloves -- minced
One 2-inch piece fresh ginger -- minced
2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 pound butternut squash -- cut into 1/2-inch dice (2 cups)
1 parsnip -- cut into 1/2-inch dice (1/2 cup)
2 carrots -- cut into 1/2-inch dice (1 cup)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 pound spinach -- stemmed, washed, and torn into bite-size pieces or one 5-ounce bag baby spinach, rinsed
Cayenne pepper

Combine the lentils, 4 cups of the water, the bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

Discard the bay leaf, and purée the lentils with an immersion blender or in a standing blender. (If you want a little texture, you can simply whisk the lentils until creamy.) Set the lentils aside.

Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and sauté until they are softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, and coriander, and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the squash, parsnips, carrots, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the remaining 1 1/2 cups water. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.

Stir the lemon juice and spinach into the lentils. The heat will immediately wilt the spinach. Add the vegetables and simmer for 5 minutes to marry the flavors. Season with a generous pinch of cayenne. Taste and add salt if necessary. Serve hot.

Makes 4 generous servings.


Michelle in Colorado Springs said...

I saw this and loved the idea but I do not care for squash so I am thinking of substituting potatoes.

Erika W. said...

I think potatoes would work fine- and would actually reduce some of the sweetness that Andy found terrible. Let me know if you try it!

JEP said...

Let me know when Andy goes out of town & I will come to eat a bowl with you...sounds delicious & healthy to me!

Helene said...

Nice post, thanks for the recipe. Looks yummy.

Tracy said...

Welcome to my world. The dinner you described sounds like most recipes at my house. Very demoralizing, isn't it?

Erika W. said...

SOunds great to me Jep!

Thanks Helene- it is really delicious!

Tracy, this was really unexpected for me. I expected the revolt from the kids- but from Andy? That so seldom happens, I was suprised. However, I've been cooking a lot with squash and pumpkin, and since he was on the fence about the last dish with squash, I'm thinking I should lay off the squash- it seems it's not his favorite.