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March 12, 2012 / An Anthology of Clouds

An Amazing, Transfomative Lentil Soup—Julie Sahni’s Curry-Laced Tomato Lentil Broth

I’m posting this without a picture because I made a disappointing lentil soup earlier today, from a recipe that the writer claimed was that lentil soup, the one you fall in love with and stop making all others. I made hers, was profoundly eh, and  then realized, I already have that lentil soup.

This one is the curry-laced tomato-lentil broth from Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking. It is a medium amount of work because it involves blanching and peeling tomatoes, but that step cannot be skipped. That’s the only difficult bit. If, that is, you have ghee on hand. I make my own and usually have it in the fridge, so that makes this a bit easier. I’m putting the additional recipe for ghee-making below.

1.5 cups lentils (yellow, red, green, or yellow split peas all fine; probably French or black not ok)
1/4 tsp turmeric

1 lb red ripe tomatoes, preferably plum tomatoes
1.5 tsp cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tbs minced onion
1tsp minced garlic
2 tsp coarse salt, or to taste
1 tbs lemon juice
several large handfuls of spinach (optional)
*1 tbs ghee (not really optional, recipe below)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 tbs chopped fresh coriander

1. Put the lentils and 1/4 tsp of turmeric in 5.5 cups of cold water, bring to a simmer and cook until done. My book says 40 minutes over medium heat; I bring them to a boil first and it takes 20 min, but this must be the non-purist way.
2. While the lentils are cooking, blanch, peel and cut the tomatoes in half, scoop out the pulp and seeds, set aside, and either give a whiz in the blender to puree, or just mince up the pulp.
3. Once the lentils are done, whisk for a minute to crush a few, then add the pureed tomatoes, cumin, coriander, cayenne, onion, garlic and salt, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook at a gentle boil, partially covered, for 10 min. Add the lemon juice and the tomato halves and continue cooking, uncovered, for 1 minute, until the tomatoes are heated and barely cooked. Turn off the heat. Keep the soup covered while you make the spice perfumed butter.
4. (I usually make the spice-perfumed butter ahead, while the lentils are cooking.) Heat the ghee in a skillet till very hot, add the mustard seeds and fry for a for a few seconds. That’s it! Then add the spice-butter and the coriander to the dal. This should be a rather thin soup. If it is too thick, add water.
5. Somehow, I started throwing a few handfuls of washed baby–or lighter green– spinach in here when the soup is done. Highly recommend that.

Here is what Julie Sahni says on making ghee:

to make 3/4 a cup of ghee (clarified butter) place 2 sticks of sweet, unsalted butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and put on a burner. Keep the heat low until the butter melts completely, stirring often. Increase the heat to medium-low al let the butter simmer until it stops crackling, thus indicating that all the moisture has evaporated and the milk residue is beginning to fry. As soon as the solids turn brown (10-12 min) turn off the heat and take the pan off the stove. Let the residue settle to the bottom of the pan, then strain the clarified butter into another container. This will turn a cream color when completely cool.

I have done this hundreds of times and never had it work anything remotely like that. But even the messed up slacker version works pretty well. The important thing is to simmer the butter until you get the lemony smell, then you’ll have the flavor. It’s also possible to buy ghee in the store.



Leave a Comment
  1. lanceblair / Mar 12 2012 3:48 am

    This will transform my lentil soup indeed! My variation always lacked the coriander, the lemon, and the GHEE! The spinach is always a hit alongside lentils. I usually pair them up with a bit of potato (vitamin C to absorb the iron) and carrots (texture foil). Nevermind all that! I want to try this straight-up! Could I write with more exclamations? Definitely!

  2. ivalleria / Mar 12 2012 2:10 pm

    lol! Exclamatory speech is becoming more acceptable for men! Don’t worry! I’ll be interested to see what you think of this soup. I ate soup for lunch and dinner yesterday.

  3. lanceblair / Mar 16 2012 5:39 pm

    Well, I finally made this transformative soup. I made it more stew-like because I wanted to see how this recipe works with what I usually prepare. I also added Spinach at the end as I often do. I didn’t make the ghee properly but browned butter with the prescribed mustard seeds, and that definitely made a remarkable (and delicious!) addition. I am heading off for my second bowl right now…

    • threefresheggs / Mar 17 2012 12:12 pm

      Ghee is tough. I love Indian food, so apparently they know how to make up for the salt and milk solids lost to the clarifying of butter… but I just can’t bring myself to do it, it breaks my heart.

  4. lanceblair / Mar 16 2012 5:46 pm

    …I made the second bowl to be more of a broth and that was even better: subtle flavor and you can get a bit more texture contrast going on. As a thick stew, this recipe is crazy-SPICY.

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