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Persian Red Lentil Tamarind Soup bursts with warming spices and the fruity tang of tamarind. Eat it as a satisfying soup with naan or over rice as a stew. While it may not be traditional, add some torn kale, spinach or chard for extra flavor and nutrition. This hearty vegan one-pot meal is perfect as we enter into fall.
While many of us are still facing summer temperatures thanks to climate change, the shorter days and some cooler nights are harbingers of the autumn and winter that really will finally arrive. We love soup anytime of the year and when it contains beans, lentils or pulses – so much the better. These perfect little nutrition bombs that come in so many guises are a superfood that we all can enjoy. Everything from creamy cannellini beans to dal in colors of the rainbow, runner beans, pinto, black-eyed peas…. I could keep going – and likely have tried most of them.
Some legumes, like the masoor dal (or split red lentil) used here, cook up in under 30 minutes. You may see some in your stores that are much brighter, orangey red. This is because of added food coloring. Try to always buy organic dried beans.
These days I mostly cook from dried beans. They store beautifully in an airtight container and even older beans will revive with a long soak and slow cooking. They define comfort food, are budget friendly, nutritious and appear in almost every culture in one form or another. Everything from a cassoulet to frank and beans, Hoppin’ John and chili. South Asians wouldn’t think of a meal without some form of dal. And if you are trying to eat more vegetarian or vegan meals, there is no single food that packs a more nutritious power. So when I came across this recipe, I knew that it would be added to my regular rotation.
Now I’ll admit, that it can sometimes be challenging to take food-porn worthy photos of cooked lentils. This is especially true if they are the main ingredient without the benefit of other colorful produce. However, once you give them a taste in one of the myriad ways that they can be prepared, I think you’ll come to agree that delicious things occasionally come in slightly less attractive packages. What the French might refer to a person as “jolie-laide” or beautiful-ugly.
So whether you call these Nature’s gifts lentils, dal, pulses, or legumes, be sure to incorporate them into your diet.
For two other delicious red lentil soups that will give you dinner in under an hour:
Yield: 6 Servings
3 Tablespoons EVOO
8 cups of water or broth
1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
A 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
About 12 to 15 fresh cilantro stems, finely chopped
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt (Diamond Crystal preferred)
2 rounded teaspoons ground cumin
1 rounded teaspoon turmeric
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo Pepper or cayenne
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2.5 cups split red lentils (masoor dal), rinsed well and drained
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons tamarind paste (more or less depending on brand) or fresh lime juice
In a large pot, heat the ghee or oil over medium-high. Add the onion, reduce the heat to medium and cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until golden and a little browned around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the garlic, ginger and cilantro stems. Add a little more ghee or oil if your pot seems dry. Season with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
Stir in the cumin, turmeric and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook in the oil to take off its raw edge and deepen its color, stirring frequently and taking care not to burn the paste, about 1 minute.
Add the lentils and stir to combine. Add 8 cups of water and season with salt (about 1½ tablespoons) and black pepper to taste. Partially cover, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover completely, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot, until the lentils soften, about 15minutes.
Reduce the heat to low and stir in the cinnamon. Add the tamarind paste or lime juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, tasting as you go to ensure it hits just the right bright and tangy notes to balance the heat. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes more, until all the flavors meld.
Garnish with the reserved cilantro leaves and serve with flatbread or rice, if desired.