Inspiration comes from the oddest places sometimes. A flicker of memory, a random happenstance, or the simple fact that you have something that needs to be used up in the fridge. This soup is a confluence of all three events, spaced over a few procrastinatory days. A half head of cabbage, begging to be finished, beautiful pictures of red lentils spotted in various corners of the web, and a random “One year ago” reminder from Smitten Kitchen all came together to bring me dinner.
This recipe tastes like a somewhat more substantial version of my favorite Indian restaurant’s lentil soup. I call it Comfort Soup because its smooth, slightly spicy temperament perfectly accompanies a hot mug of tea, a warm blanket, and some good company—all of which were part of my grand plan tonight.
This soup is simple enough for a weeknight dinner, even if it does take a little time to stew. You’re well rewarded in the end with the consistency of a pureed soup without all the fuss involved in rummaging through the cupboards for the blender.
What’s your favorite comfort food?
Comfort Soup (Spiced red lentil soup with cabbage)
This recipe is adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking via Smitten Kitchen. I have (as ever) tweaked a few things here or there, either because I didn’t have quite what the recipe called for or because I felt the taste wasn’t quite ready for its debut. The recipe below is as I cooked it; for the original, visit the link above.
- 200 g. split red lentils. Look for them at your local Indian or Turkish markets, or try the bulk section of your health food store.
- 5 c. water.
- 1/2 t. ground turmeric. I used whole turmeric (which was tougher than I expected it to be), and grated it with a Microplane grater.
- 5-6 sun-dried tomatoes, sliced. I used these because I didn’t want to open a huge can of whole romas, and I refuse to buy hard, tasteless supermarket tomatoes during winter. I didn’t actually slice mine, and thought this was a mistake. They were good, but didn’t provide the more evenly distributed tomato taste I was looking for. You might also consider roasting canned tomatoes for this soup, as Mark Bittman demonstrated here.
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced.
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped.
- 1/2 t. ginger, peeled and grated. If you don’t have a Microplane grater, go get one already! Or just use a mortar and pestle to grind the ginger into a pulp.
- 1 t. ground cumin. I imagine the cumin seeds called for in the original recipe would have tasted better, but I didn’t have any on hand, so I made do.
- 1 t. salt.
- 1/2 habañero pepper, seeded and sliced. I had frozen some beautiful ones from our garden last year. The quantity I use here doesn’t add too much spice to the soup, so if you like some heat in your food, add the other half.
- 1/2 head cabbage, shredded into short strips.
- Juice from 1/2 large lemon.
- 1 T. butter. Optional.
Put lentils and water in a heavy pot and bring to a boil. You may see an ugly, gray, bubbly monster foam form on the surface of the water. This is not something you want in your soup, so go ahead and skim it off. Turn the heat down, add the turmeric and sun-dried tomatoes, cover, and let simmer for 1-1/4 hours. Stir occasionally in the last 30 minutes.
In the meantime, heat the oil in a heavy pan (cast iron works nicely, and will add a bit of iron to your meal). Add the onions, sauté until translucent, and then add the garlic, ginger, and remaining spices (except for 1/2 t. salt). Cook, stirring continuously, for a couple of minutes more. Add the cabbage and pepper, stir, and then turn the heat down. Let cook until the cabbage is soft, turn off the heat, and set aside.
About 10 minutes before the lentils are done, stir the cabbage mixture into the lentils. Add the remaining salt. Just before serving, stir in the butter and lemon juice. Enjoy hot, with sour cream and cilantro for (optional) garnish.