Coconut Red Lentil Soup

This little legume number comes to you by way of a friend of mine who made it for brunch about a month ago.  Three of us sat down around a table laden with Acme Bread, a big leafy green salad, and a beet salad.  But this soup stole the show:  The sweet raisin bombs of sweet sweetness!  The heavy ginger!  The delectable curry!  The filling legumes! (Yes, there were quite a few exclamation points there, but well worth it.)  I think we spent a good fifteen minutes just talking about the soup.  Even long after I left my friend's apartment (with a gorgeous view of the city), I knew that I had to make this stew.

Fast forward a month, and I finally have gotten around to making it.  This red lentil soup is fantastic, very filling, and perfect for a cold or rainy (or even snowy, but we don't get those out here) day.  The recipe (or at least as I adapted it below) is also gluten-free and vegan, which actually matters to me right now (more on that in a later post, I promise).  

In the mean time, let's learn a little more about the lentil, shall we?

The mighty lentil has been around a long time.  As in, since the beginning of the domestication of crops.  Gazzow.  Lentil seeds dating back 8000 years have been found in archrological sites in Syria and about 7000 years ago in Israel.  Oh, and let's not forget that little Biblical tale where Esau gave up his birthright for a pot of lentils.  This is a legume with a history.
Given that lentils are little protein bombs, it's no surprise that vegans and vegtarians (and protein-conscious meat eaters) devour them like gangbusters.  While small, these nutritionally mighty lentils are easy to get behind:  Thirty percent of their calories come from protein alone, but these little guys are packed with fiber, folate, iron, and vitamin B  (they also have a hell of a lot of molybdenum, but you knew that).  Lentils can help lower cholesterol, help reduce the risk of coronary disease, and help manage blood sugar levels.  Don't you feel as if you should go boil up a pot of lentils right now?

Green lentils keep their shape when cooked, so save those for salads; the brown lentils soften up quite a bit and are great in soups.  But the softer and milder-flavored red and yellow lentils basically fall apart upon cooking, and they make great bases for stews, purees or just plain old wonderful dal.  In this soup, pair the red lentils with yellow split peas to have that fantastic marriage of porridge-y lentils and chewy split peas.  

Finally, a cool fact:  the word lens in Latin is lentil.  The reason we call lenses as we do is because the shape of a lens is basically the same shape as a lentil.  Or so says Wikipedia, at least.  I love words.

Okay, enough chatting about lentils.  Go make this soup, as in right now.  You'll be glad you did.

One Year Ago: Chicken with Charred Cauliflower and Red Peppers
Two Years Ago: Celery and Wild Rice Chowder
Three Years Ago: Swiss Chard Flan

Coconut Red Lentil Soup
Adapted from my friend, who adapted it from Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks, who adapted it from the Esalan Cookbook

Serves 6-8

1 cup yellow split peas
1 cup red lentils
7 cups water and/or vegetable broth
1 medium carrot, diced
1 medium red pepper
3 tablespoons fresh peeled and minced ginger
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 green onions, thinly sliced
2/3 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ginger powder
1 14-ounce can lite coconut milk
Salt and pepper, to taste

1.  Rinse the split peas and lentils until the water is clear (or close to it).  In a large dutch oven or a deep pot, put the lentils and split peas, cover with the seven cups of water/vegetable broth, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to simmer and add the carrot, red pepper, and 1/2 the ginger.  Cover and simmer until the split peas are soft (about 30 minutes).

2.  In a separate skillet while the legumes are simmering, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the green onions, remaining ginger, and raisins.  Saute for 2 minutes, then add the tomato paste and saute for another 1-2 minutes, until thick.  Add the curry powder and the ginger powder to the tomato mixture.

3.  Add the tomato mixture and the coconut milk to the lentil mixture and mix well.  Simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.  The stew will thicken. If it gets to thick, add more water or vegetable broth.  If it's too thin, simmer longer.  Add salt and pepper to taste.


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