One of my favorite go to dishes is curried red lentil soup. It comes to us from India, where it’s called dal, or daal, or dahl, or dhal, which is why I’m calling it soup. However it’s spelled, it’s simple to make, richly flavorful and very satisfying. It works for lunch, dinner or a snack. You can serve it plain or dress it up with a variety of piquant additions like salted peanuts, cashews and raisins, basil or cilantro leaves, so it’s never boring.
You need four ingredients plus water. That’s it. You can make a small or large amount. This recipe serves 6 people generously. The quanatities can be halved or doubled, depending on how many you are serving. Leftovers can be frozen in zip lock baggies and enjoyed later.
Curried Red Lentil Soup is low in fat, high in protein and fiber, heart healthy, and has a low glycemic index. Curry contains turmeric, which soothes indigestion, is good for heart health, is an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory.
Red lentils are actually orange in color (as in the photo here) and have no skin. They are smaller than brown lentils and cook faster. Because they have no skin, red lentils mostly melt when cooked, giving a creamy texture.
So far, curry powders from the bulk section of the health food store or the Indian grocery store have better flavor than the supermarket brands we grew up with. Some have more chili than others. Try several from the bulk section of the store, until you find one you love. As for red lentils, I have found them in the bulk section of the health food store, and in packages at the Indian grocery store and some supermarkets. For those of you who don’t eat dairy foods, use the Earth Balance or another good-tasting buttery spread instead of the tiny amount of butter.
This recipe serves six people generously.
Soak the lentils:
Half a day before you plan to start cooking the soup, place 4 cups of red lentils in a glass bowl that holds at least 8 cups. Fill with 6-8 cups of cold water. I soak them when I get up in the morning and then cook it around midday or evening. The lentils will double in size, so make sure the container is large enough to hold them. Cover and leave on the counter to soak for 4 hours. When you’re ready to cook, drain the lentils in a colander with small holes or a mesh colander. Rinse thoroughly with cold water until the water runs clear. I use my sink sprayer. It rinses them thoroughly.
Cook the lentils:
Put the lentils into an 8 quart pot and add 12 cups water. Half-cover and bring to a boil on medium-high heat (seven on my electric stove). Before it boils, skim the foam off. When the water boils, turn the heat down and cover the pot fully. The soup should stay at a light boil. That’s not as hot as a full rolling boil, but hotter than a simmer. The soup will cook without welling up and overflowing (2-1/2 on my electric stove burner dial).
Check and stir well every fifteen minutes. Stir the lentils up from the bottom and into the soup. Add a cup or so of water if the soup is getting thick. The finished soup should have the consistency of heavy cream, which is thinner than a puree, but thicker than a broth. Let cook for between 1-1/4 and 1-1/2 hours. It will be done when the lentils are mostly dissolved and taste cooked. When done, take the pot off of the heat.
Season and spice:
Add the salt and stir well. Add the curry powder, stir well and break up any clumps. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir the butter or Earth Balance into the soup. Adding the curry powder and butter/Earth Balance after the cooking gives the soup a richer flavor.
Serve plain or dressed up (suggestions below), alone, with bread, a sandwich, or a salad.
Let the soup cool down before refrigerating. Lasts well for several days in the fridge, or fill containers and freeze for later.
4 cups dried red lentils
4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons of good quality curry powder
2 tablespoons butter or Earth Balance buttery spread
6 to 8 cups water for soaking the lentils
12 to 13 cups water for cooking the lentils
Dress it up with one or more of these:
Dollop of plain yogurt, creme fraiche or sour cream
Sliced hard cooked egg, small cubes of cooked chicken
Chopped cilantro leaves, green onion, mint leaves, Thai or Holy basil leaves, green onion
Pistachio nuts, cashews, toasted peanuts
Sultana raisins, dried currants, pomegranate seeds