Saturday, March 3, 2012

Red Lentil Soup

Let's go back a few years to when I was living in Edinburgh, Scotland. I arrived there on a two year working holiday visa, after having been travelling for about 9 months straight, from Asia to Europe over land via Mongolia and Russia. That meant that of course my bank account was getting very low, and I needed a job pretty much asap. Unfortunately, it was also just about the exact time in late 2008 when the entire British economy crashed, and jobs were a bit hard to come by. Having had experience in the industry, and being the ever so personable and cheery person that I am, after applying for every kind of job everywhere, I finally got hired on as assistant manager of a coffee shop in a mall. It was a good place to work, the other staff was all really friendly and we had fun. I stayed there for 5 months. (Ok, that's not so long, but I'm a traveller, what did they expect?)

Aside from coffee, we also sold baked goods, sandwiches, and soup. One of our most popular soups was lentil, which wasn't something it had ever occurred to me that I would want to eat or make until I went to Britain! As assistant manager it was my job to make sure there was always soup available, so of course I made this regularly. I wouldn't say it was ever my favourite soup, but I did always enjoy it, and I've heard so much about the health benefits of lentils, so when I stumbled across red lentils in a store in Hanoi a while ago, I decided it was time to have a go at making it again.

I found a recipe on Epicurious that I used as a guideline, but of course I modified it a bit! Here's basically what I did.

Red Lentil Soup
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 small carrots, chopped
  • Bok Choy?
  • 3 bunches of this Vietnamese bok-choy type vegetable*
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp dried thyme (I would use fresh if I had it)
  • 1 cup red lentils (7 ounces), picked over and rinsed
  • 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 cups water
To serve:
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Accompaniment: lime wedges
*I often use this as a substitute for celery, as celery is somewhat hard to come by here. This stuff has a similar enough texture (stalks only) that I don't really notice the difference.
Cook onion and garlic in oil in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add carrots and celery, cumin, bay leaf, and thyme and cook, stirring, 1 minute more. Add lentils, broth, water, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until lentils are very soft and falling apart, about 30 to 45 minutes. Discard bay leaf and thyme sprig. Squeeze in lime juice to taste. Season with salt if needed, and top with fresh parsley to serve.

Bite-sized veggies.

The lentils go in!

This made a pretty yummy soup. It must have been pretty close to what I used to make at work, because as soon as I tasted it, I instantly began to crave a crusty white baguette like I used to eat with it at the coffee shop! It's pretty healthy, and vegetarian but you could change the stock to chicken or beef if you wanted, or add meat. And it made enough to have 3 containers of it in my freezer, which are handy to have for sickness, hangovers, (it seems a good soup for such occasions) or a quick dinner after a long day at work.

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