daily food photo: lentils

the lowly lentil

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.

Serves six.

10 comments on “daily food photo: lentils

  1. Lisa

    Oh I am all about this soup! I will probably try it the first chance I get (maybe with the New York Times bread!)

  2. melanie

    I’ve always been a bit fan of lentil soup and just yesterday I was trying to come up with something that would work for a lentil-quinoa salad. Do you know of any good recipes? I was thinking something with red bell pepper and olive oil…but I’m at a loss on the spice part. I’m new to this cooking thing. Help me, Obi Wan, your my only hope!

  3. Allie

    I think that has to be one of your more beautiful photos on your site.. and it’s just lentils!

    The blue plate in the background really makes them pop and brings out a lot of color… isn’t it nice to find beauty unexpectedly?

  4. Slacker Mom

    Sounds yummmy..I have been on a soup kick lately..I will have to try this…

    I wonder if the kids will try it???

    whenever I have been eating soup, they have some wonderful bread (sigh), salami, cheese (yum, your last post subject!), apple and some sort of veggie.

    They are happy, I am happy. :)

  5. Christan = )

    I was just getting ready to experiment with some lentils as I’ve never had them before. I’ll have to try this!!

  6. Sea

    This looks so delicious! Yum yum yum. I will have to use my slow cooked lentils in this delightful soup– and I think some Bette Hagman french bread would be very good with it… mmm…

    –Sea

    Visit my gluten free blog at
    http://www.bookofyum.com

  7. Sheila

    I love lentils! Here’s another recipe, which I have used for years but last night I was able to make it for a vegetarian friend who is gluten-free as well as allergic to corn, lactose, eggs, tomatoes, peppers, etc … the only modifications I had to make were leaving out the salt and pepper. I get a kick out of cooking for friends with food challenges and was SO PSYCHED to have a recipe that worked for this girl (usually she has whatever we’re having but with half to three-quarters of the ingredients missing!). I encourage you to try this, it is delicious!

    http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Mediterranean-Lentil-Salad/Detail.aspx

  8. Shelly Kang

    Yum! I used this recipe over the weekend, and it was delicious. Thanks for all the lovely recipes on your site. My daughter is allergic to wheat and soy, so most of what you use works for us as well.

    I’ve been looking at your recipe for chocolate chip cookies as well — will buy the ingredients this week. I’m not sure the Dagoba cocoa powder is available locally, and although I love the spicy chocolate combination, I don’t know that my three-year-old would appreciate it. If you could suggest a substitute, I would appreciate it — my e-mail is shellyk at shellykang dot com. I have the Dagoba website up in another tab and may order some of the cocoa mix just for myself for fun.

    Also, I love how happy you seem with the Chef. Your blog is very warm and sweet. I can’t wait for the book to come out! I just wish I had found it a little sooner.

  9. Dazy

    This is a new one for me! Looks really yummy too…gearing up with recipes for the cold winter days
    hopefully ahead!