There is a scene early on in the charming French movie Le Fabuleux Destin d’AmÃ©lie Poulain, where the main character plunges her hand into a sack of green lentils. As her hand slides into the cool mound of lentils, the camera cuts to her face, which is glowing. You can almost feel her sense of pleasure.
That scene has always stayed in my mind, mainly because I understand the tactile thrill that lentils promise. You want to grab them by the handful and let them slide slowly through your open fingers.
And this is from someone who is unfamiliar with lentils. That is to say they do not, nor have they ever, been a staple in my diet. While many Italians do enjoy lentils, they never seemed to land on my family’s table. We always preferred plump beans, such as romano or borlotti, to any other type of legume. Yet inspite of my ignorance when it comes to lentils, I must confess I have always been fascinated with the red ones.
Like AmÃ©lie Poulain, I am always tempted to run my hands through mounds of lentils. Except I would choose red ones. There’s something about their colour that makes them look like orange-red gems; as though I could string them together and make a pretty bracelet.
Red lentils, often referred to as Egyptian lentils, are always sold dry and tend to cook very quickly. Unlike dried beans, it’s not necessary to soak lentils before using them. Inspite of how easy they are to prepare, I’d never used them them until now. And my reason for using them is the Cream Puffs in Venice Flavour of the Month for March 2006: A Beautiful Bowl of Soup by Paulette Mitchell. As I flipped through the book the other day, I came across this recipe and knew instinctively that if I was ever going to consummate my red lentil love, it was now or never.
Fortunately I shop at a very well-stocked supermarket and in no time I had the ingredients for my red lentil soup. The base for the soup was the incredible vegetable stock that Paulette Mitchell opens her book with. As I mentioned in my post on this stock, it’s delicious and is certainly an incredible building block for any soup. Beyond the stock and red lentils, the ingredients were quite straightforward.
The soup came together very quickly. In fact it was ready in a little over half an hour making it a perfect option for a weekday dinner. Mitchell recommends serving it with pita croutons (pita brushed with olive oil and crisped under the broiler), but not having pita on hand I served the soup with black olive breadsticks and of course a wedge of lemon. The soup contains a bit of lemon juice and a final squeeze of lemon before eating the soup was the perfect accompaniment.
I was so happy with the black bean soup from Mitchell’s cookbook. I was equally happy with this red lentil soup. It makes a big pot of soup which means lots of lovely leftovers for weekday lunches.
The added bonus is that I got to make my red lentil dream come true. They felt (and tasted) so good!
Red Lentil Soup
Adapted from A Beautiful Bowl of Soup by Paulette Mitchell.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups finely chopped onions
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 8 cups vegetable stock
- 1-3/4 cups dried red lentils
- 2 carrots, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped celery leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon red chile pepper flakes (use less if you don’t like spicy food; use more if you do!)
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- salt and pepper to taste (I used about 2-1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper)
- Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onions and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin and coriander and cook for about 30 seconds.
- Add the vegetable stock, the lentils, carrots, celery leaves and red chile pepper flakes. Bring to a boil.
- Once the soup is boiling, lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the lentils are cooked. Stir occasionally.
- Once the lentils are cooked, add the lemon juice. Mix well. Taste and season with salt and pepper according to your own preferences. Serve the soup with lemon wedges.
Note: This soup serves 4 to 6 people. Leftovers can be frozen.