Everything fascinates, if you look closely enough at it.
Even the lowly lentil.
Moroccan Lentil Soup, adapted from Field of Greens
It fascinates me to find how much my tastes have changed in the past decade, but particularly in the last year. When I first found this soup in the Field of Greens cookbook, I was living on Vashon Island, I was a vegetarian, and I was very grateful for any recipe that had flavor. At the time, the idea of turmeric and coriander astonished me. How exotic! Making this soup felt like an afternoon-long affair. I was so proud.
Now, however, chopping and stirring and sauteeing feel like second nature to me. A decade later, I have eaten well, around the world. My tastes know more now. After I cut out gluten, I was surprised to find that everything sang out on my tongue, much more clearly, than it had in the dulled decades before it. And of course, after nearly a year of eating the Chef’s cooking, I have learned how to really listen to my food.
He has taught me — oh, how he teaches me — to really pay attention to the ingredients. It’s not the expensive bottle of truffle oil that makes great food. It’s knowing when to add salt, and when to remove the skillet from the burner, and how to sense in the sizzle that something else is missing. It’s how to be awake.
Several months ago, I made him this soup, according to the recipe. He liked it. He ate two bowls of it. But when I went to make it again, I asked him if he would do anything differently. More liquid. Not so much cayenne pepper. The ginger shouldn’t be buried. Sautee half the onion first, and then put the lentils in.
This is his adaptation. He was right. It tasted better, in tiny ways. The original recipe was solid and smiling. This one is — dare I say it? — even better. For our tastes, this one dances. It makes me feel awake.
1 cup lentils
8 cups cold water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized yellow onion, fine diced
1 small carrot, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 red pepper, diced small
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 garlic cloves, fine diced
8 ounces tomatoes (at this time of year, buy canned San Marzano tomatoes), with juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt (with more, to taste, at the end)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and fine diced
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Mix the ground spices together in a small bowl. Set them aside.
Sauté half the onion with one clove of garlic on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Do not allow the garlic to burn. When the onion and garlic have grown translucent, add half the spice mixture. Cook for one minute. Add the lentils and the water. When the water has come to a boil, reduce the heat to low and allow this mixture to simmer until tender, which will take about twenty-five minutes or so.
Meanwhile, sauté the remaining portion of the onion and the remaining three cloves of garlic in a separate skillet, on medium heat. Again, do not allow the garlic to burn. When the onion and garlic smell heavenly and have grown soft, add the carrot and celery. Cook these for four to five minutes, or until the carrot and celery have started to soften. Add the red pepper pieces and cook for a remaining two to three minutes. At this point, add the remaining dried spices and cook the wonderful concoction for two minutes or so, or until it has all melded together into a redolent mess.
Put the sautéed vegetables and spices into the pot of tender lentils. Add in the tomatoes and their juices. Stir. Add the salt to the soup and stir it up. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another thirty minutes or so, or until the soup smells so good that you simply cannot wait another minute to eat it.
Just before serving the soup, stir in the fine-diced ginger and stir it in well. Cook for a few moments more. This will keep the taste of ginger bright. Taste the soup to see if you need more salt and pepper. Season to taste.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Top with a small dollop of sour cream and a bit of chopped cilantro.