From Vienna to Dal

One of my goals this year is to use my pantry more creatively. Thanks to Penzey’s and my little grinder, I’m getting to be pretty well stocked up in the spice drawer, so I hope to work on my tolerance in that department by making more ethnic cuisine. Combine those with the big tub of plain yogurt that’s now always in the fridge for morning smoothies, and you get…my nemesis, Indian food.

I’m starting small. This is a simple red lentil soup scented with garam masala, which I made because Jeremy had just baked two beautiful loaves of Vienna bread that were crying out for soup. Still not sure how I got from Vienna to dal, but oh well. I used Penzey’s garam masala blend in place of the long list in the recipe, which simplified my prep. The soup is essentially just a spiced lentil puree, so I attempted to make it a bit more interesting and visually appealing with some garnishes: a mound of rice still warming in the cooker from lunch, and some dollops of yogurt seasoned with minced garlic and some smoked paprika.

The soup was surprisingly subtle and tasty with these adjustments; if I make it again, I’ll use brown rice to complete the protein and add yet more flavor. Our little guy mostly ate rice and bread; every time I gave him a piece of bread, I dragged it through the soup and yogurt first, so he ate a little of it, but he also tried his darnedest to pull the “contaminated” bits off first.

Red Lentil Soup with Garam Masala

This soup turned out less red than I was anticipating, given the vibrant color of the uncooked lentils—I’m guessing the turmeric and other spices modified the color. My lentils only got to soak for about half an hour, but they cooked up fine all the same. I added some diced carrot, and also used a higher percentage of chicken broth to use up what was left of a box. I used Penzey’s garam masala blend in place of most of the spices in the original recipe.

2 1/2 C dried red lentils (about 1 pound), picked over
2 medium onions, diced
1 C carrot, diced
2 T vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne
6 C water
2 C chicken broth

cooked rice (white or brown), about 1/2 C per serving
1/2 C plain yogurt
1 T garlic, minced
1/2 tsp smoked paprika

In a bowl, soak lentils in water to cover by 2 inches for 1 hour, then drain in a fine sieve.

In a 4-quart heavy saucepan, cook onions in oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden. Stir in salt and spices and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in lentils, water and broth and simmer until lentils fall apart, about 25 minutes. (Old lentils may take longer to cook.) Let soup cool slightly.

Transfer soup to a blender in batches and purée (or use a stick blender; use caution when blending hot liquids). Return to pan, and heat soup over moderate heat, stirring, until hot; season with salt if necessary. Pack 1/2 C rice into a small cup or ramekin, carefully turn it over in the center of a wide bowl and remove the cup. Ladle the soup around the rice and add some decorative dollops or swirls of yogurt (mixed with garlic and smoked paprika), and serve with bread or naan.

Source: Adapted from Epicurious.

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