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.
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 have a few general ‘food rules’ I try to follow, things I’ve found are pretty much guaranteed to make me feel healthy. One of those rules is to eat legumes in some form every day. I came to rely on legumes first because I found they were so good at helping to keep my blood sugar (and therefore my energy and mood) steady. But I don’t complain that they are also cheap, store easily, take spices and flavors beautifully, and introduce me to cuisines from all over the world.
I feel well-prepared for any week if it starts with some sort of lentil soup as well as a container of homemade hummus in the fridge.
This recipe is adapted from Meera Sodha’s Made in India. I actually started off making it by the book. I was weirdly proud of myself for pulling out the measuring spoons. Until I realized I wanted more spices (there’s a life motto – more spice!) and I would be swapping the dairy milk for coconut milk anyway. So who am I kidding – Following a recipe is just not for me.
Improvisation aside, this recipe is not about spontaneity. You have to soak the beans, boil the beans, and simmer the dal. Plan to start the actual cooking 2 1/2 hours or so before you want to eat, though most of the time is unattended. Or do as I often do with long-simmering dishes. Get the pot on the stove, make something else for dinner, and by the time you’ve eaten and cleaned up, tomorrow night’s dinner* will be finished. Love cooking or not, most of us just don’t have time to do it every night!
Black Lentil Dal
7 ounces urad dal(black lentils) 4 tablespoons butter, divided 1 onion, diced 1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped 5 cloves of garlic, crushed 3 tablespoons of tomato paste 1 teaspoon salt 3/4 teaspoon chili powder 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds 3/4 cup coconut milk
The night before you are to make the dish, soak the lentils. Rinse the lentils well and place in a large bowl. Cover with water and soak overnight or up to 24 hours.
Rinse and drain the soaked lentils and put in deep pan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Leave at a low boil for 45 minutes, skimming the water as necessary.
While the lentils are boiling, put 3 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the diced onions. Cook them slowly for 15 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic. Cook a further 5 minutes or longer, being careful not to burn. Add the tomato paste, salt, chili powder, cardamom, and cumin. Stir and remove from heat.
When the lentils have boiled, drain off most of the water, leaving just enough to cover. Add the tomato and onion mixture. Add the coconut milk. After bringing to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 1 and a half hours. Add more coconut milk if necessary to keep the lentils from boiling too dry.
Adjust the salt and spices to your taste. Add 1 tablespoon butter just before serving and stir.
*Try freezing the dal as well. I can’t promise success since I haven’t had a chance to defrost and eat mine yet, but I find lentil dishes freeze very well.