part i: south indian spinach and lentil soup

Masoor Lentils

Padma Lakshmi came to Austin a couple of years ago to promote her cookbook, Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet at the Texas Book Festival, and I was lucky enough to snag a seat under the tent where she was doing demonstrations of recipes from her book. I was sold after I took a bite of her macaroni and cheese! Immediately after the demonstration, I grabbed a copy of her book and stood in line to meet her. I’ve prepared a few dishes from the book and I’ve been pleased with the results. But, for the last several months, the book has just been sitting on my bookshelf collecting dust.

As a matter of fact, all of my cookbooks and food magazines have been collecting quite a bit of dust these days. Lately, I’ve been in a bit of a cooking funk, finding it difficult to muster up the motivation to go into the kitchen to prepare something proper. Though I really enjoy cooking, I don’t find it quite so satisfying cooking just for one.  But, I finally pulled it together after starving for a couple of days and scoured through all of my cookbooks, magazines, and the Internet for something that would pique my interest.  I decided to dust off Padma’s book and selected a couple of recipes from it.

First up was the South Indian Spinach & Lentil Soup. This is an incredibly easy dish to prepare and requires very little effort but is full of flavor. The earthiness of the roasted urad lentils is nicely balanced by the creaminess of the coconut and masoor lentils.

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I only made a few modifications to the recipe. Rather than measuring out the spinach by volume, I just used 10 ounces of spinach and did not chop them after steaming.  I also increased the amount of some of the spices for a stronger flavor. And, finally, I added a few more cups of water than what was called for in the recipe. Even with the addition of more water, the consistency was still pretty thick.

South Indian Spinach & Lentil Soup
(adapted from Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet)

Serves 4-6

1 cup masoor lentils
10 oz spinach (steamed and drained)
3 dried red chilies
2-3 tablespoons urad lentils
1 cup grated unsweetened coconut
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1-2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
salt to taste

1. Soak the masoor lentils in lukewarm water for a couple of hours. Then drain the lentils until the water runs clear.
2. Boil the lentils in 5-6 cups of salted water for about 30-40 minutes over medium heat. The lentils should be soft and mushy when ready. Add more water if it is too thick. Skim off any foam from the top.
3. Mash the lentils with a wooden spoon once they become soft to form a thick and gravy-like liquid.
4. Add the spinach to the lentils after squeezing out all excess liquid. Mix and salt to taste.
5. Dry roast the urad lentils and the chilies in a small frying pan until the lentils are golden brown.
6. Add the lentils and chilies to a food processor or blender and puree. Then add the coconut and puree until the mixture is smooth.  Add the mixture to the masoor lentils and spinach and boil gently for a few minutes.
7. Heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. once the oil is hot, add the cumin and mustard seeds. Remove from heat when the seeds start to jump out of the pan and pour over the lentils. Stir and serve.

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part i: south indian spinach and lentil soup

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