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 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)
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.