Lentil and cumin soup

Spicy lentil soup

Sometimes, you need something that will warm your soul as well as your stomach. A meal that imparts the glow you usually only get when sipping a fine whiskey. Those are the times that a salad or stir-fry just won’t cut it. You need something smooth, something…well…warm in the emotional (as opposed to temperature) sense. Everyone has their favourites, their particular comfort food. For me there are several things that hit that spot: red braised pork belly, lamb casserole or hot pot, a rich and creamy mushroom risotto, poached chicken broth with ginger, lemon grass and chilli. And a spiced lentil soup.

The earthy lentils and cumin, the astringent turmeric, the hot cayenne, the deep sweetness of balsamic, the pungency of worcestershire sauce and the almost piquant creaminess of Greek yoghurt all combine in the most wonderful, and comforting way. If I am feeling a little chilled, a bit down or just plain weary, then this gives me a little lift. It’s like the pop of a wine cork or a gentle shoulder rub, there’s something inherently relaxing – even cheerful – about it.

Spicy red lentil soup
For 2 people, with leftovers

1 onion
1 potato
1 knob of ginger about an inch long
1 clove of garlic
1.5-2 tsp ground cumin
.5 tsp turmeric
.5 tsp cayenne pepper
200g red lentils
1l chicken or veggie stock (even water will do if you don’t have any stock)
Worcestershire sauce
Balsamic vinegar
Greek yoghurt

Finely slice the onion, heat a bit of oil in a saucepan big enough to easily hold the lentils and the stock. When it’s warm, add the onions and heat slowly over a low heat until they are soft, but not brown. Peel and slice the potato into small pieces, add to the pan and fry slowly for a little longer. Peel and finely chop the ginger and crush the garlic and add them to the pan. Add the spices and stir for a minute or two until you smell their rich aroma rising from the pan. Pour in the stock, then the lentils and simmer over a low heat for 25 minutes.

I use home made chicken or veggie stock if I have any, otherwise I use Marigold reduced salt vegetable stock powder – the only powdered stock I have found that’s any good. The rest manage to be overpowering, over-salted and still have no discernable flavour. They’re horrible and they ruin dishes.

Once the potato and lentils are soft, blend them carefully – I use one of those hand-held blenders. The last thing you want to do is spatter yourself with boiling hot soup. Add a couple of glugs of Worcestershire sauce and about teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. this adds a little depth and savouriness to the soup. Taste as you add because everyone has their own ideal level of flavour. I like my soups to be quite punchy.

Serve and add a large loaf of greek yogurt into the centre of each bowl. Put a decent heavy and tasty bread on the side to dip. A malty granary loaf would be ideal. Then sit down, take a deep breath… and relax.

9 Responses to “Lentil and cumin soup”

  1. shayma

    i have never blogged about dahl bec i never know what proportion of water:dahl i add. it’s something i have to do this week. yours looks lovely, i like a dollop of yoghurt in mine, too, with lots of fresh coriander snipped in. best wishes, shayma

  2. The Grubworm

    Water:dahl proportions seem to be a movable feast, and this is definitely more soup than dahl. I’ve never managed to get the consistency that i found in North-west India around Spiti & Lahul. If i ever hit that magic thickness i’ll definitely blog/twitter/shout about it!

    I will be sure to try it out with the chopped coriander as well – thanks for the tip – that will add an extra herbiness that’ll be lovely, not to mention balance out all that yellow and white.

  3. Thursday

    I adore lentil soup but always have difficulty with getting the consistency right. I shall certainly give this a go. I wholeheartedly agree on the Marigold Reduced salt stock – all the others are just not good although if possible, I too use homemade stock (something I particularly enjoy making).

  4. Tom

    Awesome pictures. I am definitely going to have to try and emulate them. Are you using a tripod or lights or is it all just natural skills?!

  5. Jones

    I think there’s probably a whole cookbook just on lentil soup recipes, everyone seems to have their own personal favourite variation, love it. Like you say, something about it that warms the soul as well as the stomach. I most often make mine with lemon: add some zest with the spices and some lemon juice during cooking, then put a quarter lemon at the bottom of the bowl to bash about with your spoon when eating to add some extra zing as you feel like it.

  6. The Grubworm

    @Thursday: making stock is one of the great pleasures in life – like baking bread it fills the house (or in our case flat) with wonderful savoury smells. I think there’s something curative about the whole process. I’d be interested in what you put into vegetable stock, it’s not something I’ve ever had a lot of success with…

    @Tom: thanks! No tripod or lights (although I do have bright halogen lights as under-cupboard, over-counter lighting) really, just my point-and-press Sony Cybershot and as steady a hand as I can manage. I do some colour, hue and contrast manipulating in Adobe PhotoShop (you can do this in PhhotoShop Elements as well), although not much as like the photos to look as natural as possible. And I compose and crop very carefully. Sometimes, like with the baba ganoush shot, I just get lucky first time and everything falls into place with no playing around.

    @Jones: Oooo – lemon zest – good plan. I think i am going to have to try that out – might add it with Shayma’s coriander for a really fresh and zingy lentil dish. The weather at the moment is crying out for food like this.

  7. Thursday

    Just about anything goes in the homemade stock, usually peelings and seasonings collected when I do a huge pan of roasted vegetables. Leek skins and a bay leaf or two are musts tho’, as are bits of carrot. The result is very earthy and a bit woody and particularly good to use for root veg soup.
    I cheat with the bread – we got a breadmaker a while ago and I’m not sure that assembling ingredients in it class the loaves as homemade but I love it.

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