Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Red Lentil Soup with Fresh Fenugreek

There's a great Indian supermarket near Chicago. Not a little store front with a few shelves of dusty imported jars of curry paste; but a full-on grocery that makes Indian cooking seem a lot less stressful for western cooks like me. Shopping there was so much fun and certainly inspiring.

I had a small list of ingredients to be on the lookout for. I found all but dried mango powder, and I'm sure it was there somewhere, escaping my inexperienced eye. The best part about shopping in an unfamiliar ethnic market, however, are the whims--items that catch your eye and you just have to have even if you're unsure what you'll do with them. I picked up ping pong ball-sized Thai green eggplant and a big, leafy bunch of methi leaves.

The methi leaves looked kind of like watercress and smelled a bit peppery. I did not know them by name and was not sure how they should be used. But they looked so fresh and alluringly unfamiliar, I knew I could figure something out. At home, I learned that these greens are also known as fresh fenugreek. You may be familiar with dried fenugreek seeds, which add a pleasantly bitter sweet flavor to savory dishes like curries.

I decided to use my bunch of methi leaves as the centerpiece of a red lentil soup, sauteeing them separately with a mixture of toasted spices and onion. Along with the Thai eggplant they brought some novelty to simple lentil soup. When was the last time you used an ingredient that was totally new to you?

Red Lentil Soup with Fresh Fenugreek
You can substitute cooked shrimp or hard boiled eggs for the crab meet. If you don't have fresh fenugreek, add some dried seeds along with the cumin seeds and use fresh baby spinach or watercress. Any type of eggplant may be substituted for the green Thai variety; or opt for chopped zucchini.

Serves 6

7 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups red lentils, rinsed (about 1 lb)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
5 green Thai eggplant
½ tsp salt
1 (14 oz) can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 Tbs ghee
2 tsp cumin seeds
1/8 tsp red chile flakes
1 medium yellow or white onion chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 garlic cloves, chopped
4 cups methi leaves (fresh fenugreek leaves), about 4 handfuls, thick stems discarded and chopped, plus additional for garnish
1 cup crap meat (from about 1 lb Jonah crab claws, or from canned)
Lime wedges for serving

In a large pot, combine the broth, lentils, coriander, turmeric and garam masala. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. Add the eggplant and ½ tsp salt. Simmer 20 to 25 minutes more, or until lentils and eggplant are very tender. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 2 minutes.

About 10 to 15 minutes before lentils are done, heat the ghee in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cumin and chile flakes and cook, stirring often, until cumin starts to pop and brown. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the methi leaves and a pinch of salt and cook until wilted about 2 minutes.

Add onion mixture to lentils. Stir to combine and taste for seasoning. Ladle soup into bowls and top with crab meat. Sprinkle with reserved methi leaves and serve with lime wedges.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

interesting combination!