At the outset this isn’t a soup based on Indian cuisine. Rather, the original recipe I’ve based this on was a lentil stew I cooked several years ago, going with what I had to hand. More recently I read Villy’s post, of For the Love of Feeding on a Simple Lentil Soup and my reaction was, ‘Wow, how come I’ve never thought of cooking Puy lentils with tomatoes before’. I guess I’ve always gone the French way of using onions, celery and stock. Or is that the British way? Anyway, I’m so glad Villy’s post not only prompted but inspired me to make this as it turned out so good. OK, a slight gripe with how I cooked this a couple of days ago. Normally when I use tomato purée I also use fresh salad tomatoes pan-fried over lowish heat and allowed to caramelise. Rubbed through a fine wire metal sieve that purée always adds immeasurably to any tomato sauce I make. This time I didn’t realise I’d scoffed the last of them. Oh well, next time.
As for the cassia stick, I’m going to be a pedant! It’s not exactly the same thing as cinnamon. It’s from the Cinnamomum aromaticum tree which is indigenous to India and the Far East. Whereas cinnamon is indigenous to Sri Lanka and is called Cinnamomum verum, and has a much finer bark, with quills of very thin layers. It’s also much more vibrant in colour, almost golden when ground. The reason why I’m stating the differences is simple: cassia is so much easier to fish out from this soup. Cinnamon proper is too fragile and is better used within a dryish curry, where its pieces (that do splinter) are much easier to see on the plate. Although, in the photo below I ended up using cinnamon as I can no longer buy cassia.
As for the lentils: my advice is to cook them separately and add them toward the end of cooking time. Why? It’s incredibly difficult to find the whole cloves to remove them before serving if the saucepan is loaded with lentils, especially the smaller Puy that I’m using. Far easier to remove and discard them before adding the lentils – take my word for it! Besides, using the cooking liquor of lentils and legumes can cause flatulence. And, as I can’t buy asafoetida here (which helps to alleviate flatulence, apparently) I’d prefer the locals not to audibly gasp as I hover along the sea front rather than appearing not to be using my legs for propulsion. As for a vegetable, the only one that springs to mind is okra – especially as I love ’em. Shame I can’t get my hands on ‘Ladies fingers’ here. What? That’s what us Brits refer to them as. Anyway, it’s not a coincidence I’m pleased to say. Recently I read a post on A Perky Poppy Seed about Roasted Okra Bites, a way of cooking them that I’ve never tried before. I reckon these would be just the perfect veg to go with this. Will have to try them. As for a herb: Villy, avert your eyes, please! Coriander/cilantro springs to mind.
Fragrant Puy Lentil and Potato Soup, with tomatoes and spices
- olive oil
- 200g (7.05 oz) x onions, peeled, trimmed and chopped
- 1 x dried bay leaf, ripped
- 2 x salad tomatoes, washed and sliced in half, cooked separately
- 1 x medium red jalapeño chilli, washed – optional
- 40g (1.41 oz) x Puy lentils, washed and cooked separately, more to personal taste
- 2 x garlic cloves, peeled, trimmed and chopped
- 1 x teaspoon cumin seeds, dry roasted until fragrant, then ground
- 1 x 4cm (1½ inch) piece cassia (or cinnamon) stick, kept whole – see notes above about their differences (if using cinnamon proper use about half)
- 4 x whole cloves
- up to 2.5cm (1 inch) x piece fresh ginger, peeled with a teaspoon and finely grated (I used 2 x heaped teaspoons grated ginger as mine was quite dry. Use half, when soup is cooked taste and add more if needed)
- 1/4 x scant teaspoon turmeric, more to personal taste
- 2 x tablespoons tomato purée
- 1/4 x teaspoon cayenne pepper, more to personal taste
- 1/4 x teaspoon paprika
- 500ml (1.05 US pt lqd) x water
- 300g (10.58 oz) x potatoes (I’ve used salad potatoes called Annabelle), scrubbed and cut into chunks (if using normal potatoes weigh after peeling them)
- up to 1/2 x organic very low salt vegetable stock cube, more to personal taste
Measurements within brackets above are approximate only.
- Put a large heavy-based saucepan on electric heat No 3 (out of 6) and when hot pour in enough oil to cover its base. Add the onions and the bay leaf and stir through occasionally. When the onions have softened and are beginning to turn a pale golden reduce heat to No 2 and add the jalapeño chilli. Add a splash or two of water if the onions show any signs of drying out.
- In the meantime put a smaller saucepan filled to halfway with cold water on heat No 4. Add the lentils, bring to a boil, cover with a lid, reduce heat to No 2 and simmer until cooked. Drain and rinse thoroughly in cold water to prevent them from cooking further. Set aside.
- If using fresh tomatoes: put them in a small saucepan or pan on heat No 2 with a little oil and cover with a lid. After about 15 minutes remove the lid and continue to pan-fry without it. Turn them over to get them evenly cooked. This takes about 30 minutes on electric to get them nicely softened and caramelised. Once they’re ready carefully place them in a fine wire metal sieve over the saucepan for the soup (I’d do this after cooking out the rawness of the tomato purée). Rub them through either with a stainless steel soup ladle or a wooden spoon, collecting all of the purée from underneath as well. Discard the pulp that’s left in the sieve.
- Dry roast the cumin seeds in a separate pan over low heat only until they smell fragrant. Take off heat and grind to a powder. Set aside.
- When the onions have caramelised push them to the sides of pan, add a glug more oil if necessary and add the garlic. Allow to cook for several minutes before stirring through. Add the cloves and cassia at this stage as well. When the garlic has cooked out its rawness stir into the onions, again push to the sides and add half of the ginger for about 30 seconds. Sprinkle over the turmeric and stir through. Again, push all to the sides and add the tomato puree, add a drop more oil if needed, and allow at least 5 minutes for its rawness to cook out. Sprinkle over the cayenne pepper and stir through. Add the fresh tomato purée at this stage as well.
- Pour in the water and add the potatoes. Up the heat to No 4, cover with a lid and bring to boiling point. Reduce heat to either No 1 or 2 and simmer until the potatoes are cooked. This is when I tasted the soup for any needed stock and extra ginger. Only half a vegetable stock cube was needed for mine and the other half of the ginger to gain a balance. Allow enough time for the stock to dissolve and the ginger to infuse before tasting again. Remove the cloves. Add the cooked lentils and put back on heat so the lentils and soup are piping hot.
- If this needs to be stored overnight remove the chilli and cassia before storing.
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