Lentils never fail to provide warming, hearty and healthy sustenance. Unfortunately they are not the most photogenic legume. I have made two very different lentil soups in the past week, and both yielded wonderful results, but very ugly photographs. My standout favorite, a Green Lentil Soup with Indian Spices and Coconut Milk, also happened to be the ugliest.
Then I remembered this Lamb & Lentil Stew that I made in January, but never blogged about. I don’t know why this oversight was made because this is just the kind of meal I love: a big pot of something fresh and hearty that will provide ample leftovers. We were able to have the butcher at Whole Foods cut the proper-sized chunk off a boneless leg of lamb for us, but you can also get a pack of lamb stew meat already cut into bite-sized pieces at many grocery stores. Beef would be a fine substitute, but I love the flavor of lamb. It is also my favorite kind of meat for Indian curries, so this soup was doubly appealing.
I know I cannot mention how wonderful the un-photogenic lentil soup is without giving the recipe, so that one follows as well. It is from a book I love, and it was even better eaten for lunch the next two days with Irish soda bread. This one is vegetarian, so if you were put off by the lamb, give this soup a try.
Curried Lamb & Lentil Stew
Adapted from the Complete Cooking Light Cookbook
I use French lentils because they hold their shape and have a toothsome texture when cooked. You may have to get them at a health food or gourmet store. Brown lentils are a good substitute.
1 tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 ½ lb. boned leg of lamb, cut into half-inch chunks
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs. red curry powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
cayenne pepper, to taste
4 c. low sodium chicken broth
1 c. green lentils (also called French or de Puy)
½ lb. baby spinach (the better part of a pre-washed bag)
1- 28 oz. can diced tomatoes with their juice
Heat the oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper and add to the pot. Cook until browned on all sides, turning occasionally. Add the carrots, celery and onion; cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, curry powder, cumin and cayenne. Stir to combine.
Add the broth and lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, then add the spinach, a couple handfuls at a time, stirring until wilted. Simmer for 3 to 5 more minutes, uncovered. Remove from heat and serve.
Green Lentil Soup with Indian Spices and Coconut Milk
Adapted from Once Upon a Tart by Jerome Audureau and Frank Mentesana
I resisted grinding whole spices for a long time, but now I love doing it. For a small amount of extra effort, the payoff is a fuller, more intense, more genuine flavor. I recommend it highly for the cardamom and cloves, especially in a simple recipe like this that relies on a few key spices for its unique flavor. However, if using ground spices makes it convenient enough to make this soup on a chilly night, then I absolutely give you my blessing. The spices are toasted in clarified butter before adding to the soup. If this seems unnecessary, just add them with the thyme and turmeric. I liked the toasting technique, and it is easy to do, but it is a little fussy. Click here to learn how to clarify butter, or you could simply use ghee or olive oil.
1 tbs. unsalted butter
½ tbs. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 ½ tsp. fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tsp. dried
1 ½ tsp. ground turmeric
6 c. low sodium chicken broth (I really like the flavor of Swanson’s)
1 ½ c. French green lentils, rinsed (called lentils de Puy)
2 tbs. unsalted butter, clarified; or ghee; or 1 ½ tbs. olive oil
8 green cardamom pods
5 whole cloves
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1 can lite or regular coconut milk
In a large stock pot or dutch oven, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until lightly golden, stirring often. Add the garlic, thyme and turmeric and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Add the broth and the lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes.
Bruise the cardamom pods with a heavy object (rolling pin, glass jar) or in a mortar and pestle until they begin to open. Pop out the cardamom seeds and discard the green pods. Grind the cardamom seeds along with the cloves in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Set aside.
Warm the clarified butter, ghee or oil in small saucepan over low heat. Add the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook on low, swirling the pan often, until the spices become aromatic, about 2 minutes.
After the soup has finished simmering for 20 minutes, add the spices with the butter, ghee or oil. Stir into the soup. Shake the can of coconut milk well, open and stir into the soup. Simmer for 5 minutes more, taste for seasoning and serve immediately.
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