Monday, July 20, 2009

Cooking on a Budget: Spiced Tomato and Red Lentil Soup

So I have this four-pound bag of red lentils I bought the last time I was on Devon Avenue. I am quite fond of masoor dal, and there are a couple of recipes that have become standards in my kitchen. But I am always on the lookout for something new. When I do find something interesting, I will clip it or copy it or enter it into my recipe program, where it often will sit for a while until I chance upon it while looking for something else or, less likely, remember that I have it.

One of my projects the past couple of months has been to organize my recipes. I am sure I am not the only one who has a massive amount of untried recipes filed away for use "some day." I have as many little sticky tabs sticking out of my cookbooks. It's nice to have a recipe available for any situation that may arise for which you need to cook something.

The problem is how to find them, and how to remember what you have. It's not perfect, but I have found a way that works for me. If you know how to use Excel, it's fairly easy.

I generated a spreadsheet for my untested recipes. I created the following fields: Recipe Name, Main Ingredient, Type of Recipe, Ethnicity (if appropriate), Location, and Source. From those fields, I can sort the data in ways that lets me find anything I have that uses a specific ingredient, whether it's a main dish, a side dish, or dessert, or from where I got it. Now, whenever I go through cookbooks or magazines, I enter the information into the spreadsheet after I have flagged it or torn out the page. Once I make a recipe, I remove it from the spreadsheet.

It was pretty labor intensive when I started, but now that I'm down to only having to add any new recipes that I find, it is working out pretty well.

For example, I had this four-pound bag of red lentils and I wanted to find a new way to cook them. I went to the spreadsheet, highlighted everything, sorted by main ingredient, and scrolled down to where red lentils were listed as the main ingredient. And that is how I found this recipe that I had pulled from the pages of Fine Cooking over the holidays.

Now I really love my curried red lentil soup, but when I saw Fine Cooking's recipe for Spiced Tomato Lentil Soup I thought it had potential. So I tore out the page and piled it onto the stack. And completely forgot about it. But it went onto the spreadsheet with every other recipe on the pile, so when I did my search for red lentils, there it was.

The recipe looked simple enough, and I already had most of the ingredients on hand. I even still had some of the Madras Tamarind Hot Curry powder I got for my birthday a few years ago.

The original recipe makes 14 servings. I figured half would be more than enough to feed me for a week, and it will.

And as much as I love my curried red lentil soup, I like this one just as well. And if I were being completely honest, I might just say that I like this just a little bit more. Madras curry has a seductively warm flavor - a hint of sour from the tamarind offset by the spicy heat. The carrots and celery give it texture, and the tomato sweetens it up.

The recipe also says that you can use either the Madras curry or a sweet curry powder. It would probably also be good with sweet curry powder, but I don't think I will ever find out. But if you do decide to make it with the sweet curry powder, you might want to add the 1/8 of a teaspoon cayenne that was also included in the recipe. The Madras powder is hot enough for me, so I did not add the cayenne.

I had some leftover dill rice so I put a spoonful of that at the bottom of the bowl before adding the soup, and it made for a beautiful combination.

It's easy on the budget, too.

Total Cost: $8.33
Cost per Serving: $1.67
Home Cookin Chapter: Soups and Stews


Serves 6

2 Tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp Madras curry powder
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 14.5-oz. cans petite-diced tomatoes, with liquid
1-1/3 cup red lentils, sorted, rinsed and drained
1 medium celery rib, cut into small dice
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and salt and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the curry powder and cook for about a minute to release the fragrance and toast the spices.

Add the broth, tomatoes, lentils, celery, carrot, garlic, water and salt to taste. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring often. Remove any scum that forms on top. Lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the lentils and the vegetables are tender. Add salt if necessary.

Adapted from Fine Cooking, December 2008/January 2009

Exported from Home Cookin 5.8 (

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