Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk and Saffron – Michelligatawny
Sometimes interesting things happen when working within limitations. A couple years ago I was cooking for a sick friend with a long list of food limitations and came up with this soup. She told me it reminded her of Mulligatawny so I’ve called it after her ever since: Michelligatawny.
Recipes are like the Pirate code from Pirates of the Caribbean – more like guidelines anyway. That said, it helps to know why particular ingredients are chosen before deciding on substitutes. Most lentil soups I make are thick. They break down in the cooking process and absorb liquid – creating a stewy texture. This soup is more about the broth and so I chose French Green Lentils. They are better at holding their shape and not taking over the bowl. So if you choose a different lentil you will want to keep that in mind.
Every time I’ve served or been served a dish flavored with saffron someone will talk about how it is ‘the most expensive spice in the world. Please pretty please for me – will you cut that conversation off? It’s tedious. If you have to discuss the saffron let’s compare how much saffron you need to flavor a dish to how much you need of one of my other favorite spices, dried dill weed. Pinches versus palmfuls. Or consider all the work needed to deliver it. Saffron delivers an awful lot of flavor for all it takes to get it to our tables. Maybe just enjoy that flavor without getting wrapped up in the dollars and cents.
Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk and Saffron – Michelligatawny
one can of coconut milk
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup French Green Lentils
one cup diced onion
2 tsp finely diced or grated ginger
1/2 a tsp fresh grated turmeric
pinch of saffron
1/2 cup diced tofu
salt to taste
Rinse and cook the lentils, simmering in the chicken stock (and a pinch of salt if the stock is unsalted) until tender – 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté the onions in olive oil until soft. Add the ginger and cook through.
When the lentils are done cooking, drain and return to the pot. Add the onions and ginger along with the turmeric, saffron, coconut milk and tofu. Cook over medium heat until heated through. Taste and add salt if needed.
There is something about having at least one ingredient prepped that makes me about 10x more likely to cook after a long day of work instead of looking at a list of unassembled ingredients and deciding to pop some popcorn for dinner (not that, um, I would EVER do that.) On Sunday I tossed a butternut squash in the Instant Pot treatment (one cup of salted water, six minutes on high with manual release) while I made dinner. I also cleaned and gave its seeds about an hour in the oven on 200 degrees to dry them out. And so, having given myself just that little bit of momentum, this Monday night meal came together nicely.
This soup was intended to be my sister’s recipe, one that takes dairy cream and is livened up with apple juice. But when I forgot to pick up the cream and remembered I had coconut cream I decided to go a different direction. As with all my ‘recipes’ you’ll want to adjust to your liking. I cook for one and buy the smallest butternut squash I can find in the pile. If you’re cooking for a family and picked out the larger squash you’ll want to taste and adjust as you go.
Not-exactly-my-sister’s Butternut Squash Soup
half an onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
red curry powder to taste
one not very large butternut squash, peeled and cut and precooked if possible
2 cups chicken stock
half a can of coconut cream
salt to taste
lime juice to taste (optional)
In a heavy bottomed pan, heat your favorite sauté oil – I used olive oil and a smidge of butter. Sauté the onions until fragrant. Add the garlic and continue cooking for a minute or so. Add the curry powder and sauté til fragrant.
Add the chicken stock and the butternut squash. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer til tender. If you haven’t had a chance to pre-cook the squash this will take longer but still work just fine.
While the soup is simmering, zest and supreme the lime. Once the squash is tender, add the zest and lime. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup thoroughly. Add the coconut cream. Heat thoroughly.
Taste and add curry powder or salt to taste. The coconut cream and butternut squash combo might be a tad too sweet. If so a splash of bottled lime juice will balance things out.
Spiced Butternut Seeds
seeds from the butternut squash, washed and dried (200 for an hour should do it)
Toss the seeds with just enough olive oil to coat. Add the cumin, coriander, salt and pepper to taste. Bake in oven at 350 until crisp, about 30 minutes.
I feel like in January soups and salads battle it out for prominence on our plates. Salads because so many of us are looking to balance out the overindulgence of the holidays. And soups because, well, nothing is better for balancing out the cold weather. For me, soups have to win hands down. After all I can eat a salad any day of the year. But I’m not going to go for a hot bowl of lentil soup in the heat of July. I embrace soup season wholeheartedly.
This soup from the New York Times has been a staple in my kitchen since it was published in 2008. I love it for its pantry friendly ingredients list, its freezer-friendliness and its easy set and forget nature. I like to top it with toasted spiced pumpkin seeds. Or a dollop of yogurt. Or lots of cilantro. What will be your favorite garnish? Find the recipe here.
I was recently accused of having perhaps too many kitchen tools. I’m not sure whether or how to defend myself. Ok, ok, I have way too many bread-rising baskets for someone who hasn’t made a loaf of bread in at least a year. But when it comes down to it I think it’s awfully hard to have too many spatulas, or colanders for that matter. The right tool for the job always makes the job twice as fast and twice as fun. That’s a fundamental rule for life, not just the kitchen.
I’ve been eating a little more tofu lately. I love the way it takes in flavors. And that it cooks up so quickly to a filling meal. I do a version of this bun vermicelli bowl with tofu because it’s amazingly tasty and lends itself to prepping ingredients ahead for the week. Tofu recipes tell you to press it so I thought I was doing right by my tofu by giving it a squeeze between a couple of tea towels. Then I ran across the concept of a tofu press and realized I’ve been neglecting my tofu prep.
So yes, enter yet another tool for my overstuffed tiny kitchen. And it’s elevated my tofu from a convenient like to look-forward to love. Well-pressed tofu is toothsome and fries up with a nice crunch even faster that half-heartedly pressed tofu.
Tonight’s dinner was a quick tofu fry with lots of vegetables drizzled with the panang curry from a Thai restaurant doggie bag. It was lovely and filling and the kind of meal that makes you feel well-nourished. And since the tofu was waiting in its press in the fridge the meal took all of 15 minutes start to finish. That makes the tofu press a tool that has earned its place.
Saturday night and the fancy grocery stores with helpful butchers have closed. I’m standing in front of the pork section trying to remember the various cuts and what they are good for. I want something that won’t be too expensive and will enjoy a good long slow cook. I don’t need much – I’m looking for flavor rather than substance. I’ve just about resigned myself to buying the smallest shoulder I can find, cutting off what I need and freezing the rest, in what spot in my jam-packed freezer I couldn’t say. Then my eyes land on a pork neck. Intriguing. Cheap. I’ve never cooked with a pork neck but I think it will do the job just nicely.
This recipe was inspired by a tin of Smoky Paprika Chipotle Seasoning I picked up on impulse a couple weeks ago. I try to avoid spice mixes. It’s more useful to have the separate ingredients and blend my own as needed, but lately I’m a sucker for anything chipotle. And paprika. So there it is.
A word about the cumin and coriander. You can skip the toasting and grinding by hand. That’s the joy of being able to buy the pre-ground. But if you can spare a few minutes, that moment you inhale the scent of the freshly ground and toasted spices will remind you why you cook instead of buying frozen dinners. Incomparable. The freshest jar of pre-ground spices can’t offer you that.
This is a simple soup. Hearty and filling and subtle on the spices. Top with a dollop of plain yogurt and a squeeze of lime. (There are few dishes that can’t do with a dollop of yogurt and a squeeze of lime.)
Chipotle Bean & Pork Soup
3/4 lb black beans, soaked overnight and drained 1/4 lb navy beans, soaked overnight and drained 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds 1/2 lb pork neck 1 Tablespoon olive oil 1 can diced tomatoes 1 onion, diced 2 cloves garlic, crushed and diced 1 tablespoon smoky paprika chipotle seasoning* 1 1/2 cup chicken stock 1 tablespoon salt
In a small skillet (cast iron is best for this), toast the cumin and coriander until fragrant. Remove from heat and crush in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy skillet. Brown the pork neck on all sides. Place pork in the slow cooker. Add freshly ground spices and the rest of the ingredients, adding more stock if needed to cover everything. Turn the slow cooker to high for one hour. Reduce to low and cook for four to five more hours, until the beans and pork are tender. Add salt to taste.
*A blend of chipotle chili powder, paprika, garlic, sea salt, sugar and smoke flavoring.
When I lived in Lithuania cabbage rolls were frequently on the menu. The filling was meaty, the cabbage tender and sweet and the sauce was just sharp enough to pull the whole dish together.
I haven’t figured out the secret to cabbage in my own kitchen. It never quite gets to that tender and sweet stage. So it’s never made it into my repertoire. Still, just about any time I get the urge to diversify my vegetables, a head of cabbage makes it into the vegetable drawer. Figuring my tenderness issue might be fixed with my new slow cooker, I recently tried Southern Slow Cooker Choucroute from Food52.
I’ll give it a solid B. Part of the lack was that I couldn’t find the right sausages. I think next time I’ll cook the cabbage longer. And I think I’ll add more apple.
In the meantime, I’ll try to get to my favorite German restaurant. They don’t have cabbage rolls but they do have craveable sauerkraut.