Red lentils are one of my favorite soup ingredients because their mild flavor and fall-apart texture provide the perfect backdrop for vegetables and warming spices. If you live near an Indian grocery, it’s a great place to get the whole-seed spices for this recipe — as well as the fresh curry leaves, which I’ve never seen in a regular supermarket. But you can also purchase curry leaves through Amazon or other online purveyors. It’s worth the effort to find them, because there really isn’t a good substitute for their flavor.
Adapted from Food Network’s Vegetable Mulligatawny Soup.
4 tbsp whole coriander seeds
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp whole fennel seeds
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped fine
2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne
4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 lb potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/4-inch cubes
1 small cauliflower (about 1 pound), chopped into small florets
2 cups split red lentils, rinsed
24 fresh curry leaves
8 cups vegetable broth, plus 2 cups extra for thinning out the soup if needed
1 14-oz can coconut milk
2 tsp salt
fresh cilantro, chopped fine (for garnish)
In a heavy skillet, combine the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns and fennel seeds. Roast over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the coriander darkens slightly and the spices smell toasted and fragrant. Transfer to a plate to cool and set aside.
In a large pot (5-6 quarts) over medium-high heat, saute the onions in oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook about 1 minute more. Turn off the heat and stir in the turmeric and cayenne.
Grind the cooled spices into a semi-fine powder (we have a spices-only coffee grinder for this purpose). Using a fine sieve, sift the spices into the pot. Discard any larger spice pieces that remain.
Add the carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, red lentils, curry leaves and 8 cups broth. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and salt. (At this point you can puree the soup with an immersion blender if you want a smoother texture, but I prefer to keep the chunks. You can also thin out the soup with additional broth if desired.) Simmer a few minutes more, then serve topped with chopped cilantro.
Pictured: Le Creuset Flame #23 Skillet