Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Red Lentil with Sun Dried Tomato Soup: Celebrating Autumn

It's right around now that I start to believe that there's another season other than Summer here in Austin.  Sure, it happens every year, but with the mercurial nature of the weather worldwide, I figure the only thing that I can be sure of is that there's nothing to be sure of.  But as the days grow impatiently shorter, and the warmth of the sun gives way to a drastic drop in temperature at night, I find a certain joy in the food and the flavors that the cooler months inspire.  To be honest, it's my favorite season of the year to be in the kitchen and at the table.  Roasted vegetables, herbal infusions, warm spices like clove, cinnamon, and turmeric, robust herbs like sage, oregano, and thyme, and of course, hot soup.

So today begins a series of recipes that celebrate Autumn and the celebrations it encompasses.  And to kick things off, I offer a simple and soul-warming red lentil soup with sun dried tomatoes, spiced with cumin, ginger, and curry.  Perfect for slowing down, celebrating the company of loved ones, and melting off the chill of the outdoors.

Red Lentil & Sun Dried Tomato Soup
Gluten-Free & Vegan

Active Prep Time:  5 minutes
Inactive Prep Time:  at least 2 hours
Cooking Time:  30-45 minutes
Yield:  about 2 quarts (8 servings)

3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

1 c red onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 inch ginger stem, peeled and chopped
1/2 c carrot, diced
3 tablespoons rehydrated sun dried tomato, chopped

3 c soaked lentils (from roughly 1 c dry)
6 c warm stock/water
2 tablespoons maple syrup

salt & pepper, to taste

What you'll need:  sieve, large mason jar, large saucepan with a lid

1.  The first step really is to soak and rehydrate the red lentils.  It is often said that lentils need no soaking before cooking.  And while that is true that it is not truly needed, the soaking serves more to decrease the total cooking time and to promote better digestion and access to the nutritive benefits of the lentil.  Which is good.
2.  Rinse the lentils in a sieve and then transfer to the mason jar.  Cover with four cups cold, filtered water and leave for at least two hours (I normally leave mine overnight).  The lentils will absorb the water and increase close to three times in volume.  Drain and rinse one more time.
3.  In the saucepan over medium/low heat, add oil.  When hot, add cumin, curry powder, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes to oil and gently fry.  Cook for about one minute, being careful not to burn the spices.
4.  One at a time, add onion, then garlic, ginger, carrot, and sun dried tomato.  Saute for about one minute each.  Enjoy the aromas of this step.
5.  Add lentils, warm stock or water, and maple syrup.  Bring to a boil, skimming any scum that collects on the surface.  Reduce to low/medium heat and cover.
6.  Allow to actively simmer until the lentils have started to break apart and the soup begins to thicken.  You can use a ladle or cooking spoon to help facilitate this process, smashing the lentils as you stir.
7.  Season conservatively with salt and pepper to taste when finished.  Keep in mind that the flavors will continue to meld together and deepen, so use a light hand.

Plump, happy, red lentils.

Mise en place, with extra red onion slices for frying/burning to garnish.

First taste as documented by my Instagram account.

I love this soup.  It gently asks you to take your time, whether in preparation, cooking, serving, or eating.  And as the waning sunlight of every day imparts the illusion that we're constantly running out of time, particularly with the holidays, a soup like this can help to give you a sense of peace and grounding, even if just for a short time.  I am so looking forward to sharing more Fall-inspired recipes with you, from whipped parsnips, pickled apples and mulled hibiscus-ginger tea (both inspired by my recent trip to the Philippines), to candied ginger granola cookies.  

Please enjoy this soup and remember that the best way to love others is to love yourself first.   Nourish your mind and body with care and compassion and know that the rest will follow.

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