Sunday, June 10, 2012

Curried Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard

Here's a lovely, satisfying soup that is relatively quick to make and is definitely easy. It's perfect for this warmer season when you want something healthy, hearty and satisfying but you don't want to spend a long time over a hot stove. Lentils cook up relatively quickly and most of the rest of the work involves chopping some vegetables. Perfect for weekday lunches, and you know I am all about that.

I got this recipe from my sister sometime back in the mid nineties. She had adapted it from a recipe she found in a vegetarian cookbook, so I have no idea how close what she gave me was to the original version. I did make quite a few changes, however, based on what I have learned about Indian cooking.

And again, this illustrates the process by which you can take almost any recipe and adapt it to what you know, or what you have on hand. If you think of a recipe as more of a guideline than a formula, there are few limits to what you can accomplish.

One of the main changes I made to the recipe actually made it more complicated. My sister's version calls for a tablespoon of curry powder, but I have so many spices available to me now that I could not stop myself from using them instead. But, if you do not have a cupboard full of spices, just use a tablespoon of curry powder instead. Or, if you only have one or two of the spices, you can just use those. It might not be authentic, whatever that means, but if it tastes good what do you care? I almost always add turmeric and ginger to any dish that is vaguely Indian and not just because of the taste. I do that because they are good for me and more is always better than less.

The swiss chard was a last minute inspiration inspired by the fact that I had just gone to the green market that morning and had returned with a beautiful bunch of it. Any greens will do, or none. If I had thought to add it sooner I would have cut up the stems and cooked it with the onions and garlic, but as I did not, they are cooking away in my Sunday morning frittata with Chinese cabbage as I write this post.

In the original (altered) recipe, you add the tomato paste after you have added the liquid. I like to add it before, so it has a chance to brown. The original version also has you add the spices at the same time that you add the onions, which I have seen before, but I am more comfortable putting them in just before I am going to add the first liquid (usually tomatoes) and cooking them for a minute or two to let the oils and fragrances release and then adding something that will help keep them from burning.

My sister's version also adds the carrots and celery when the liquid is added, but I thought it might add another dimension of flavor to add them to the onions, garlic and ginger just before the spices are added, so they can absorb some of that flavor before the lentils and broth are added.

But however you decide to do it, I am sure it will be delicious. Although I used a lot of spices, they blend well together and do not overpower. If you decide to just use curry powder the effect would be the same. If you decide to make this soup. And I hope you do.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Serves 6

3 Tbsp oil
1 tsp nigella seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 carrot, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp fenugreek leaves
2 Tbsp tomato paste
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup water
14.5-oz can chopped tomatoes, with their liquid
1 cup green lentils
kosher salt to taste
1 bunch of chard leaves, chopped (save stems for later use)
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Yogurt, for garnish

Place nigella seeds and oil in a large pan. Bring up to heat together in a large pan over medium-high heat. When the seeds start to sizzle, add the cumin and mustard seeds and cook until the mustard seeds start to pop. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute, then add the garlic and ginger. Cook for about 5 minutes more, stirring frequently, until the onions are well softened.

Add the carrots and celery and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the turmeric, cumin, coriander, paprika and cayenne pepper. Crumble the fenureek leaves over the vegetables and cook for another minute or two, until the fragrace from the spices has been released. Add the tomato paste and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, until it has browned.

Add the vegetable broth, water, tomatoes, and lentils and season to taste with salt. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the lentils and mix well. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until the lentils are tender, about 25 minutes.

Add the chard leaves and cook until they are wilted, about five more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Serve hot, garnished with a dollop of yogurt.

adapted from a recipe Anne adapted from Slim and Healthy Vegetarian by Judith Wills (Gramercy, 1996)

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

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