Snow Day Salve
We interrupt our regularly scheduled blogfest with the following weather announcement: the Washington area is getting some snow today.
However the storm continues, it's a safe bet that come suppertime, the weather outside will be slightly frightful, if not annoying -- conditions that call for a hot pot of stove-top defrosting magic.
Don't worry; I'm not suggesting a two-hour kitchen production on this potentially challenging weeknight. In fact, the recipe below for red lentil soup (aka masoor dal) takes about 45 minutes, start to finish. Not everyone has red lentils on hand in their pantry, I understand. But if you're already making the requisite trip to the grocery store for bread, milk and toilet paper, I urge you to look for red lentils and pick up the accompanying aromatics that make this soup so satisfying.
Alternatively, pick up a container of the more common brown or green variety which lend themselves to all kinds of flavor possibilities. The two main differences between the red and the green is cooking time (green require about 15 minutes of additional time) and resulting texture (red is mushier, like a potage, whereas green tend to hold their shape).
If, by chance, you're scanning the list of ingredients below, and you don't care for tomatoes, no worries. Leave'em out. I also offer a handful of options for seasoning the legumes, depending on your spice rack inventory and preferences. The point is, the recipe is forgiving and flexible, and best of all, will make you smile on what promises to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
P.S.: This is a fun dish to make with kids; the coral-colored pulses change color while cooking, resulting in a shade of marigold yellow. Younger helpers will have fun adding whole spices to the soup pot and will be guaranteed an exciting aroma-sensory experience.
And please, if lentils fail to excite you, share your tried-and-true dish that takes the chill off on the proverbial snow day.
2 cups red lentils, rinsed
1 1-inch hunk of peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 whole garlic clove, peeled
Optional: 1 cinnamon stick, 1 star anise pod, 1 bay leaf
1-2 teaspoons coarse salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Pinch asafetida (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2-1 medium onion, sliced into thin half-moons
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
6-12 baby tomatoes, halved
Place rinsed lentils in a heavy-bottomed pot and add enough water to cover, plus one inch (about four cups). Add ginger, turmeric and garlic, and any or all of the optional whole spices. Use what you have on hand and what you like -- I am partial to the star anise pod and the cinnamon stick.
Bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover and cook lentils at a simmer, until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove whole spices and season with salt, stirring and tasting with each addition.
In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat and add asafetida (if using), quickly cooking for about 10 seconds, followed by cumin seeds (30 seconds), then garlic and onions. Cook over medium heat, allowing onions to brown at edges. Add cayenne and tomatoes, and season with salt to taste. Pour seasoned mixture into soup, stir and serve.
Makes at least four main-course servings.
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