Here's a lovely twist on one of my favorite soup ingredients. Ever since my first encounter with red lentils in Curried Red Lentil Soup, I have been a big fan. Those tiny little legumes pack a powerhouse of flavor. And unlike most other legumes, they need no soaking and become tender within about half an hour, at which time they kind of disintegrate into a thick, delicious slurry.
Most of the red lentil dishes that I have made have been based on Indian or Middle Eastern cuisines. This version is based on a recipe I ran across in a lovely cookbook that I found when I helped out a friend at the Printers Row Book Fair a few years ago, called Please to the Table, a culinary tour of the vast region of the former Soviet Union. I saw it at a used book stand, thumbed through it for about 5 seconds, and brought it home with me. Of its 688 pages, over half are tabbed with recipes I want to try. So when I was looking for something new to do with red lentils I found a recipe for Armenian Lentil and Apricot Soup that not only looked good, but for which I already had all of the ingredients on hand.
Well, almost. You will notice that the title of this post is Red Lentil Soup with Dried Mango, not apricot. The dried mango is what I had on hand, and I thought it would provide a similar enough flavor profile that I could substitute it for dried apricots. I hoped the lemon juice would provide enough tartness to compensate for that bright tartness the apricots would have brought to the dish.
I was quite pleased with the results. The mango added a lovely sweetness to the lentils. I was not familiar with the idea of using cumin and thyme together and would have thought the unique, rather strong flavors that each possesses would come into conflict, but they did not. The leafy muskiness of the thyme perfectly complemented the smoky muskiness of the cumin.
A word about the ground cumin. I have always been wary of it, and used it sparingly. There is something about the smoky flavor that overpowers all of the other spices whenever I have used it. Then one day I was following a recipe that called for toasting cumin seeds and grinding them. The resulting flavor was bright and fresh, with very little of that unpleasant smoky overtone I so dislike in the pre-ground cumin I was buying. From them on, I have toasted and ground my own cumin seeds and used that instead of the commercial product.
The recipe also called for a regular onion, but all I had was a beautiful red one, which I thought would actually be a better match for the lentils and the fruit. Overall, it is a warm, spicy comforting soup that would make a perfect dinner on a chilly night with a salad and bread, and it is fast and easy to make.
Home Cookin Chapter: Soups and Stews
RED LENTIL SOUP WITH DRIED MANGOServes 6
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 a large red onion, finely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup dried mango, chopped
1-1/2 cups dried split red lentils, well rinsed and drained
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp ground toasted cumin, or to taste
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for five minutes, then add the garlic and the dried mango. Cook until the onion is soft, about 10 more minutes.
Add the lentils and the broth. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Add the tomato, cumin, thyme, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Remove the soup from the heat and either put half of it in a food processer and puree it, then return it to the pot. Or alternately, give it a few passes with a stick blender. Add the lemon juice and adjust the seasonings to taste. Simmer for another 2 or 3 minutes, stirring.
Serve garnished with the parsley.
adapted from Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook, by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman (Workman Publishing, 1990)
Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (www.mountain-software.com)