When I’m lonely, I like to fill the space with spices and soup. I’m back at school, but haven’t been able to keep Seattle and my brother off my mind. It’s probably rainy in Seattle right now. And likely a bit lonely.
On quiet, drizzly days in January, nothing is more comforting than a bowl of soup and a house that smells like an Indian mother’s spice cabinet. But aammaa India who cooks the best curry in town wouldn’t have a cabinet. Instead she’d have a tin filled with her favorite spices.
To chase away the clouds, I made a super easy lentil soup that takes 20 minutes to cook. Seriously. While at yoga school in India, I picked up a technique for toasting spices in oil to bring out their fragrance and flavor. Just one disclaimer: get ready for smells. Toasted coriander or cumin or mustard seed is the friend that lingers for an hour at your house even after you yawn, “well this was a fun party,” or “it was great to see you; when’s your bedtime?” I still smell the cumin seeds I toasted for last week’s curry when I sit on the couch.
Second disclaimer: get a pressure cooker. It will cook anything in five minutes, I swear. Pressure cooked food retains more nutrients than steamed food. And, hey, every person on the Indian subcontinent and her sister (or, around half the world population) has a pressure cooker to make traditional lentil soup, daal, in five minutes. After returning from Nepal and India two Christmases ago, the only thing I wanted was a pressure cooker (and to rid myself of the intestinal parasite I picked up during fieldwork research in a dusty village; but that’s another story.)
Coconut Lentil Soup
1 can coconut milk
1 cup red lentils
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth or water
Generous pinch of salt
2 Tbsp coconut or peanut oil
1 onion, diced
Fresh cilantro, for garnish
Choose 3 of the following to create your own curry powder:
1 tsp red pepper flakes, 2 tsp if you like it hot
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fenugreek
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp ground cumin or cumin seed
1 tsp ground coriander or coriander seed
- Cook lentils until soft in broth with salt. If you’re using a pressure cooker, let the lentils cook on low heat for 5 minutes after the pressure goes off.
- As the lentils cook, caramelize the onions with a bit of fat and salt. When browned, take out of pan and put aside.
- In the same pan, heat oil on high and let spices fry until barely browned. Turn off heat and add onions.
- When lentils are done, add onion-spice oil mix and coconut milk. Let simmer on low heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring often.
- Serve with lime, a dollop of greek yogurt, vinegary cucumber salad, and naan toasted in butter and minced garlic.