Monday, September 6, 2010

Padma Lakshmi's Yellow Velvet Lentil Soup with Cumin and Dried Plums

There has been a lot of hate in the air lately, especially in New York City. 

Intolerance, violence, and protests of a harsh nature, combined with record breaking heat waves have made this a difficult and tense August to say the least. Especially in lower Manhattan, and I think everyone is happy to return to a fall routine and give their air conditioners a rest.

For the past few weeks it has been too hot too cook and I've been making a lot of salads, or simple meals out of rotisserie chickens, some fresh bread and sliced tomatoes or greens sauteed with garlic and olive oil. It is all I've been able to manage. But this Labor Day weekend has brought with it a hint of fall and a craving for soup. And a desire to, well, labor over a meal again.

But what kind of soup?

Soups, like the cuisines they come from, are all good for different needs. There are rich, decadent soups like creamy clam chowder when you want to indulge, celebration soups like delicate homemade tortellini, nourishing soups like chicken noodle and miso, everyday soups like barley and lentil, ramen for winter nights, and sweet and sour for a pick-me-up, and then there are stews, cold soups, fruit soups, purees and the list goes on.

But what to eat when you're in need of some spiritual healing? Maybe you had to work all summer? Your vacation was too brief? Or you had too much time off and are worried about getting back to work? Or maybe you're still looking for a job? Or politics have got you down and it seems like the world grows more divided by the minute.

In times like this, I am drawn to Indian and Middle Eastern Flavors. I want something, cleansing but full of healing spices, meatless, but rich and satisfying, and a soup that is easy to make and tastes even better the day after.

During my last visit to my parents house, I went through the many boxes of my things that used to be the contents of my old apartment and threw half of it out, books, old shampoo bottles, birthday cards, shoes,  yellowed curtains, broken ceramics and all the little odds and ends that once meant something, but now, I no longer cling to. The one box I couldn't wait to open though was my cookbook box. When I packed it two and a half years ago, I thought it would be opened within six months, my books perched on a shelf in our new kitchen. But months went by and they waited patiently until a couple of weeks ago when I stuck a pair of scissors into the packing tape and sliced it open. 

I don't think I ever imagined I'd be cooking in my bathroom, but my cookbooks don't seem to mind and I'm so happy to have these old friends on my shelves again, even if it's not over a four range gas top stove. One cookbook I've barely used and am looking forward to exploring is Tangy, Tart, Hot and Sweet by Padma Lakshmi. Yesterday I made her Yellow Velvet Lentil Soup with Cumin and Dried Plums and it was just what I was craving. Cleansing, spicy, soothing and a perfect way to transition out of the final weeks of flip flops and shorts, into sweaters and boots. Along with a loaf of sprouted bread and her chili honey butter it made a perfect lunch. If I were to make this for dinner, I might add a side of steamed greens like swiss chard, kale or spinach, with some sliced garlic, salt and olive oil for added flavor.

Here's to a spring in your step and a peaceful fall.

Yellow Velvet Lentil Soup with Cumin and Dried Plums
3 cups orange (masoor) lentils, washed well with warm water and drained
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. salt
2 tbs. olive oil (I used coconut oil)
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1 1/2 tbs. minced ginger
2 1/2 tbs. shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
3 plum tomatoes, quartered
2 tsp. curry powder
juice of one lemon
10 dried plums, pitted, chopped to bits (I used prunes and I think golden raisins would be nice too)
1 cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves

Fill a deep stew pot with the lentils, bay leaf, salt, and enough water to cover the ingredients by 1 inch. Simmer on very low heat for 1 hour. (I covered the pot and stirred every now and then adding water as needed). 

Heat the oil in a skillet and add the cumin seeds. After 2 minutes, add the shallots and ginger, and cook until the shallots are glassy. Add the coconut and stir until the coconut is golden brown. Add all the tomatoes and curry powder, and saute on medium heat for about five minutes until the tomatoes start to wilt and lose their shape. (I had to add a few tbs. of water and cover in order to get the tomatoes to break down). When the mixture forms a cohesive paste, add it to the lentils, stirring over low heat until nicely combined. Remove the bay leaf. With an immersion blender, pulverize the lentils so that the whole mixture is roughly blended but not totally liquified.

Remove the soup from the heat and add the lemon juice, chopped plums, and cilantro. Stir and serve hot. Serves 8.

if you want to make this all in one pot like I did, you can cook the shallots, spices and tomatoes in your soup pot first, and then set this paste aside while you cook the lentils. no need to clean out the pot in between steps either.

Chili Honey Butter
8 tbs. unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 tbs. honey
1 tsp. cayenne
pinch of salt

Combine all the ingredients until smooth and well blended. Store in a container in the fridge.

Rice Cooker Greens
To make greens in your rice cooker, slice a few cloves of garlic and throw them in, give a little splash of olive oil, toss a few handfuls of washed greens in, chopped if you like, add a pinch of salt, a few tbs. of water, close and cook until wilted, stirring once. My cooker has a steamer setting which I use but you could turn it to any setting. 


  1. What a perfect meal for me to serve to G&J when they come for a long visit tomorrow. Hmmm...what to have for dessert ....
    And yes, fall is in the air here for sure. The sound of dry leaves skipping across the deck, the scream of cicadas given way to the quiet chirp of crickets, the background noise of a Sunday afternoon football game, and aaahhh - a pot roast (pasture raised grass fed, of course) and an apple pie in the oven. Make you want to hurry home for a visit?

  2. This is J, from G&J mentioned above. Judy could not have been more correct. The "Yellow Velvet Lentil Soup with Cumin and Dried Plums" was absolutely amazing. I loved it so much. And the best news is that there's leftovers for tomorrow!! Yum yum yum.

  3. That soup sounds so comforting (and so delicious!) I could use both right about now!