My usual winter lentil dish is a French countryside stew of sorts. A hearty combination of green lentils, carrots, onion, celery, thyme, and oh, roughly half a pound of bacon. Stewed together slowly, the flavors meld and the whole thing becomes thickly rich and smoky-bacon scented. It’s one of those dishes that converts people into lentil eaters. Or at least bacon-y lentil eaters.
Tasty as it is, I thought I’ve give my hips a little bacon vacation this month and take my lentils in a different direction. In search of a simple dal recipe, I stumbled upon this recipe on 101 Cookbooks for a dal-inspired curried red lentil soup. Sweet, spicy, and savory with layer upon layer of flavors – some bold and assertive and some lingering softly – this is a soup I could eat again and again. Red lentils, yellow split peas, lots of ginger, fresh spices, coconut milk, and butter-sautéed scallions sing together in this beautiful winter soup.
There’s all sorts of great balance here – red lentils that fall apart completely next to yellow split peas that keep their shape; sautéed scallions, sweet and nutty, against the fresh-spicy zip of a raw scallion topping; and the warm heat of ginger and toasted spices balanced by the cooling sweetness of coconut milk and golden raisins.
We ate this soup simply, at the suggestion of 101 Cookbooks, over some cooked brown rice. If you wanted to take this in a more refined direction, I can imagine a pureed version topped with some curry-spiced brown butter would be delicious. Yeilds 1 medium pot of soup, enough to serve 6. Makes great leftovers and keeps well refrigerated up to 1 week.
The original recipe calls for 2 tbsp curry powder. I didn’t have any on hand, so I substituted a blend of the spices you see in the recipe below. I know raisins in a soup may seem a little out of place, but keep in mind this is like a thin Indian dal. I liked the subtle sweetness of the raisins, but I think the soup would still taste great without them if you prefer.
For the Soup
- 1 cup, 200g red lentils
- 1 cup, 200g yellow split peas
- 8 cups, 2 quarts, roughly 1/2 liter water
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
- 1/3 cup tomato paste
- 2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced or pounded in a mortar and pestle
- 1 tbsp Vindaloo spice blend (A great curry alternative from Penzey’s Spices. Feel free to substitute regular curry powder here.)
- ½ tbsp ground cumin
- ½ tbsp ground coriander
- ¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter or ghee (Substitute olive oil for a vegan version.)
- 1 small bunch scallions, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup golden raisins (sultanas)
- 1 14oz can light coconut milk
- Salt to taste
Place the lentils and split peas in a mesh colander and rinse well. Transfer to a medium soup pot, add the water, and bring to a boil. Add the carrot, tomato paste, and 1 tbsp ginger. Reduce the heat and simmer 30 minutes until the red lentils begin to fall apart and the yellow split peas are tender.
While the lentils are cooking, set a small heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the spices and toast until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Be careful not to burn them. Remove from the heat, transfer to a small bowl, and set aside.
Return the pan to the heat and add the butter. Once melted, add half the scallions, the raisins, and the remaining 1 tbsp of ginger. Sautee 2-3 minutes until the scallions are soft and aromatic.
Add the toasted spices, the scallion mixture, and the coconut milk to the soup. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat an additional 20-30 minutes until thickened to your liking. Taste and season with salt.
Serve plain or over rice with the reserved fresh scallions.