Monday, October 7, 2013

Red Lentil and Tomato Soup

This soup has been haunting me for two years.  It's one of my absolute favorites and I think I have made and photographed it at least three times in an attempt to share it with you.  Not a single photograph has ever been worthy of posting.  Seriously.  Not.  One.  Ever.

Until today.  {Insert me jumping up and down clapping in glee here!}  I've come to the conclusion that my photography woes with regards to this soup have been due to three factors.  First, it's taken me forever to really feel comfortable with my camera skills, capturing the light in an attractive way and food styling abilities.  I think I may be at the point where I've gotten the hang of it. Or maybe I just got lucky on this one.  For today, at least, I'm not going to question it because it means I finally have some decent photos to share with you.

Second, I don't often plan what recipes I'm going to make and when I'm going to make them.  That sort of leaves me at the mercy of whatever lighting I have on the day I decide to whip up a batch of something new.  In the case of this soup I seem to only make it on rainy and cloudy days when I can't squeeze out enough light to make even the prettiest cake or cookie look edible, let alone a humble soup.  But really the biggest problem I've been having is that fact that, let's face it, the soup is not the most attractive color.  Some things are just really hard to make look enticing in a photo and the mustard-like color of the lentils just is not very photogenic. 

But by golly, I think I've finally managed to make it look like it's something you might want to eat.  And thank goodness because it really is an awesome soup.  Thank you pretty German morning light from my big back windows.  Thank you Anthropologie for the sweet little napkin that makes all of my food look awesome against it and IKEA for the rolling kitchen cart that helps me find just the right spot to take my pictures.  And thanks to you- my faithful readers- for having the patience and fortitude to stick it out with me through the oddly colored and poorly focused photos of my past with the hope that I may just find my stride and finally deliver on a soup that took me two years to get right.

Red Lentil and Tomato Soup
Makes 4-6 servings of soup. Slightly finessed from Fine Cooking.
For the printable recipe, click here.

This soup is pretty darn perfect for my family's taste, but it is infinitely adaptable.  My husband, ever the carnivore, likes a bit of shredded chicken or turkey stirred into his bowl.  The greens add a really nice slightly bitter note to the soup, but are certainly not necessary and the soup is quite good without them.  If you choose to use them, you can throw in whatever you have in your fridge.  I've used kale, spinach, swiss chard and even bok choy with equal success.  And you can go totally vegetarian (even vegan!) by using vegetable stock as your liquid.  The possibilities here are endless.  The real key is the red lentils, which I would not substitute with any other sort of lentil as they cook differently.  You can find them in many grocery stores these days so seek them out near the rest of the dry legumes and grains in your local store.

1 medium onion, chopped finely
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 tsp curry powder or garaham masala
1 tsp dried cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 pinch cayenne pepper (to taste)
a generous pinch of sea or kosher salt
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes in the juices (fire roasted are my favorite to use in this soup)
4 cups home made or low sodium chicken stock (to go vegetarian, use vegetable stock)
1 cup dried red lentils
2 tbs chopped sun dried or slow roasted tomatoes
1 heaping cup chopped bitter greens such as kale, swiss chard, or mustard greens

Heat 2 tbs olive oil in a large saucepan (3 qt) over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they have softened and become translucent (about 5 minutes).  Add the carrots, celery, curry powder, cumin and smoked paprika and stir for about 1 minute or until the spices toast and become very fragrant.  Add the salt, stock, tomatoes and their juices, and lentils to the pot.  Stir continuously until the soup comes to a boil so that the lentils do not stick and form clumps.  Once the soup reaches a boil, turn the heat down to medium low and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes or until the carrots and lentils have softened.  Add the sun dried tomatoes and greens and cook for another 4-5 minutes to soften the greens.  Taste for seasoning and add salt as needed.  Serve immediately.

The soup will keep for several days in the refrigerator, though the lentils will soak up much of the liquid.  Simply add a bit or water or stock when you reheat it.  You can also freeze the soup for up to three months.

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