As a newly minted member of the Recipe Redux, I was overjoyed that my first recipe theme was “spooky” spices. “Great!” I thought, “I love Halloween and I love spices!” I had a million ideas, that was until I saw the complete description of the October theme. As I read on, it became clear that they were going with a different angle. It turns out that I had to find a spice that I was afraid of or one that I had used that turned out to be a total failure.
Embarrassingly, I have had plenty of total disasters involving spices. Let’s see, there was the curried chicken dish that I served my husband that tasted like glue. Or the pot of 9 bean soup that had a flavor profile that likely resembled fresh dirt. How could I choose? I settled on cumin seed. Years ago I had made a recipe that called for toasting cumin seed. I was young and just out of college, trying to impress my friends. Thinking that I knew what I was doing, I set the cumin seed in the pan, turned the heat to high and walked away. Anyone who has toasted spices knows this is a huge mistake. Those cumin seeds went from smelling wonderful to smelling like a 5-alarm fire. It was a mess and without any back-up seeds, I had to serve a sub-par dish. So here I am, many years later, ready and willing to tackle the cumin seed again. This time, I would make soup and being older and wiser, I would stand-by, keeping an eye on those precious seeds so that they wouldn’t burn.
Ironically, I now love toasting spices. It adds so much complexity and warmth to a dish. In this recipe I decided to use red lentils as a hearty neutral base because they accept spices so well. I included a trimmed and lightly macerated stalk of lemongrass to the cooking liquid to provide a refreshing hint of citrus. And to finish, I added light coconut milk which gives the soup a delightful creamy sweetness.
Fearful no more of toasting spices, I am instead grateful for the learning experience I got from those cooking disasters. I will continue to make mistakes, but from mistakes sometimes come the best results! Bon Appetit!
Earthy red lentils cooked with toasted spices and lemongrass-infused broth then finished with a touch of light coconut milk.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 stalks celery, diced (about 1/2 cup)
- 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup chopped onion)
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced (about 3/4 cup chopped)
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
- 3/4 cup red lentils, rinsed
- 2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and smashed*
- 3/4 cup light coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Set a pot over medium heat and add the oil. Once the oil is hot add the celery, onion and carrots and cook vegetables until softened, about 10 minutes.
- Add the cumin seed, coriander and cayenne to the pot and cook, stirring frequently to toast the spices, about 1-2 minutes. Add lentils, broth and lemongrass and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until lentils are cooked and tender, about 20 minutes.
- Stir in the coconut milk and cook 5 minutes more. Add lemon juice, then remove pot from the heat.
- Using a stick blender or regular blender, puree the soup to a smooth consistency. (Note: If using a regular blender, stay safe and prevent unwanted burns by blending in batches and allowing soup to cool slightly before pureeing.
- Serve warm topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt.
- To prepare the lemongrass for the soup, first remove the outer leaves from the stalk. Take off a few layers until you get to the more tender inner leaves. Trim off the root end and also cut off the top of the stalk, leaving about 5 inches of lemongrass. Gently smash the stalk using a meat mallet, the back of a large knife or rolling pin to release the oils and then add to the soup pot.
- Portion is a generous 1/2 cup.
- Serving Size: 6
- Calories: 282
- Sugar: 1
- Sodium: 71
- Fat: 13
- Saturated Fat: 7
- Unsaturated Fat: 5
- Trans Fat: 0
- Carbohydrates: 18
- Protein: 24
- Cholesterol: 52