Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Curried Green Lentil Soup

Lentil soup has been a favorite of mine since my father (one of the best self-taught chefs I know. He didn't do it professionally but he has owned a restaurant and everyone that has tried his food loves it), made it for me. I have been cooking for years, even when I was living at home, but when I moved out, I obviously had to learn a bit on my own. As I love to eat, but don't like to spend too much money in restaurants and takeout is for when I am lazy, I had to learn how to cook relatively well. I find this soup to be a healthful way to take the chill out of a cold and damp day; so as soon as the weather turned colder a couple of weeks ago I thought to myself, 'I need to make a big pot of curried lentil soup.'

Green Lentils have a pale green colour with a few of brown and tan for a bit of variety.

This particular recipient can be made vegan with one obvious subtraction. I have served it to vegans / vegetarians and they loved it. Indeed, if you are a vegetarian or want to have a few vegetarian options, lentils are a great protein to take advantage of, and when cooked properly, like any other bean or pulse, give an wonderful umami flavour.


1/3rd of a cup of Canola Oil - enough to fry a large onion - I have yet to purchase olive oil for my new abode so I'm using canola here.
1 Large Red Onion
Approximately 4-5 cups of Green Lentils (best to soak in brine overnight)
3-5 Cloves of Garlic (they vary in size)
3-5 Slices of Fresh Ginger
3 Large Celery Stalks (I prefer complete, leaves and all, just broken off from the root)
1 Medium to large sized Cauliflower
2-3 broccoli stems (cut off the overly fibrous part at the bottom is my recommendation)
1/2 - 2/3rds of a large cooking carrot - depends on how sweet you want the soup
3-4 heaping tablespoons of tumeric-based (yellowish) mild curry powder
about a 1/4 cup of sea salt
1 - 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper
1 - 2 teaspoons of black pepper
2 Large bay leaves
1 teaspoon of basil
A couple of beef bones - I used some from last night's rib steak after freezing them - If you want vegetarian vegan, this is your subtraction, unless vegetables started growing bones, you'll have no substitution.
About 4-5 liters of water
1 Large stock pot / Soup Pot I would hazard a guess of a 5 liter capacity

Make your own adjustments to taste. I do not believe in too many hard and fast rules when cooking as it is a creative process.

For my lentils, I chose to go with green lentils that I purchased from Salamanca, in Kensington Market in Toronto. For about 4 bucks Canadian, I purchased 3 cups of Green Lentils, and and equal amount of pinto beans, and black beans. As you can see, there are a ton of Legumes to choose from in this place, including lentils, beans and peas. You can also pick up dry nuts, spices and other products, and the prices are better than most supermarkets I have purchased from.

Before I cook something, I tend to have everything I need at the ready, so that once I am absorbed in the task of what I am doing, I don't have to remember to go into the fridge and fetch something - otherwise that something might get left out.

Prior to cooking, I recommending rinsing and and soaking the lentils for a couple of hours in salted water; I prefer to do this with about a liter of water with a couple of teaspoons of salt. You can speed up the process with warm water. If you did not do this, or you soaked them for less time, it will take longer to cook the lentils to the point of being edible.

Chop the onions (coarsely in my case as my chef's knife is rather dull and is of lower quality for the time being), the garlic, and the ginger.

Put the pot on the stove on a medium/high heat (in between), as I am using gas, I cannot give you an exact stove temperature, you'll have to live dangerously and experiment with what works best for you. After the pot has heated, add the oil, allow that to heat up but not to the smoking point - if it does smoke, I recommend you throw that out and start over with this step.

Throw in the ginger, for about a minute, make sure the individual pieces are coated and cooking; once they start changing colour you can start adding onion.

Start adding a handful at a time, the chopped red onion, stir with a wooden flat-ended spoon (my recommendation) in between handfuls, otherwise it may start to burn. When I say handful, I am referring the amount rather than the technique; holding your cutting board over the pot and sweeping the onion in with your knife is easier and less messy than using your hands. After about 1-2 minutes, the onions will start to caramelize, turn the heat down a touch and add in your chopped garlic, and stir again.

Actually, I do recommend stirring it pretty often if you are on high heat as this will prevent burning, and distribute the heat and cooking process to these ingredients evenly. Turn the heat down after about 5 minutes of this, or when these ingredients have started to turn slightly brown at the edges, and cover the pot.

Dice the carrots, celery, broccoli stems and cauliflower; you can throw this stuff into a food processor, but the exercise of chopping will be good for you. While you are doing this, uncover your pot and stir every once in a while, as you don't want anything to - you guessed it - burn. You can cut the ends off of the celery and peel the carrots but I do not do this myself because that stuff is edible and nutritious in my opinion.

Stirring is essential otherwise the vegetables will cook unevenly, but there is an art to it, as it does not need to be stirred constantly. The idea is to allow for the individual vegetable components to coat with a bit of oil to cook evenly and at a steady rate.
Add a pinch of salt to your onion, garlic, and ginger, then raise the heat to medium again, and add the carrots, about a handful at a time, stirring as you go. Repeat this with the broccoli stems, then the celery, and then finally the cauliflower, and stir every once in a while.

After about 10 minutes, reduce the heat, and start adding your spices. Add the pepper, the curry, the cayenne, the basil, add half the remaining salt. then reduce heat to minimum and cover the pot and allow the vegetables to sweat and reduce.

Okay, the hard work is done, and you can clean up any mess, because cleaning while you cook makes for a better use of your time. I tend to have less organic scrap because I tend not to peel and like to use every bit of a vegetable that I consider edible. My scraps end up in a Tupperware container in the freezer until I wait for the organic waste pickup - or you can compost.
At this point, I would usually check the soup periodically to see how it is doing, and to stir it every so often so that the process is even and the bottom does not burn.

There is no need to throw this stuff out if you have an organic waste pick-up service. If you do not, there are composting options.

After about 30 minutes of reduction on low heat, start adding a bit of water. Gradually add in the water so that the cooking process does not halt if you are using cold water, if you are using room temperature water, it will go faster.

At this point you can start folding in the lentils - Don't drain them, just fold them into the soup. Gradually add more water as the soup cooks. The idea is to have your soup simmer but not boil, and if it does boil, reduce the heat and add more water. Gradually I like to end up with about an inch below the top of the pot.

Generally once the process of adding the lentils is accomplished, I will slowly start topping up with water till everything is completely covered in water. If the lentils are not soaked long enough, more water will need to be added.

Stirring is key, and low, steady heat, otherwise things cook unevenly. As the process goes on, it can be managed less intensely.

Once the lentils are in, the rest is just patience and keeping the heat at a low rate. I usually aim not to boil the soup so when I notice this happening, I will lower the heat or completely turn it off for a bit.


At this point, I usually just leave the heat going on minimum (lowest heat possible) for the next 2-4 hours, with the top of the pot slightly ajar in the first hour and a half to reduce the water level a bit and concentrate the soup as I prefer it to be thick more akin to a stew - but this is strictly a matter of preference. If you like your soup watery, keep the lid covered and/or add more water. The real trick with this recipe is leaving it overnight to allow the flavours to come out further.

At any point in this process you can add something else, turnips, tomatoes, chicken stock or whatever, or remove something you don't like; go ahead, Gordon Ramsay isn't going to break into your kitchen and call you a f$3#ing donkey for substituting shallot for onion. The important thing in cooking is to get the basics right, then have fun and make the dish your own, as it is a creative process.

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