Vegetarian Curried Green Lentil Soup with Sweet Potatoes

Vegetarian Curry Green Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

One of my favorite things in the world might be throwing an impromptu dinner party with just a few hours’ notice. Maybe it’s all those years in my teens and early 20s spent in restaurant kitchens, but I love the mad dash to plan a menu and execute with only what I’ve got in the fridge and pantry.

Just such an opportunity arose Thursday afternoon. We’d scheduled a get together with all of my girlfriends to celebrate the year that was, gathering in a few out of towners in Chicago visiting family for the holidays. We’d planned to go out for dinner, but had not called ahead for reservations, and the spot we’d picked was booked, which gave me the opportunity to offer to host and whip up…something for a crowd of 10. Mind you, we’d just returned from five days in Michigan with family, so the fridge was a teensy bit bare, but there were enough bits and bobs of green, and my well stocked pantry saved the day to make a fitting feast.

With 3 hours until party time, I assembled a big pot of beef and black bean chili, spiked with a tiny bit of Mexican chorizo that was lingering in the fridge, gluten free cornbread, a white peach balsamic vinegar slaw with fennel, apple, cabbage, toasted pepitas and dried cranberries, and finally, this pot of curried green lentil soup, which turned out to be an unexpected star of the menu.

The soup is vegetarian, and can be vegan with swapping out the tiny bit of butter for olive oil and suffer none for the change. Typically, I have homemade veggie broth in the freezer, but the freezer was bare, so as I searched the crisper drawer for flavor options, I knew I’d have to layer in flavors with a couple of tricks to make a full bodied soup that satisfied.

I’ve fallen hard for Indian flavors in the last few years, and with my dear friend Sabera teaching me what her momma taught her, I applied a couple of Indian techniques in the creation of this quick soup. Making the flavor foundation by frying the black mustard seeds and ribbons of fresh curry leaves in oil before sauteeing the veggies gets this humble soup off to a good start, and applying the same technique of herbs fried in oil at the end brings a fresh punch of curry to the finished pot of soup.

Curried French Green Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup
Serves 5-6 as main course

Lentil Quick Brine
1 ½ cups of french de puy lentils*
2 T kosher salt for lentil brining, plus more to season soup to taste
water

Soup

2 T olive oil, divided
1 T butter
1 T brown mustard seeds
12 fresh curry leaves, divided*
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 orange or red bell pepper, cleaned and diced
2 1/2 T Madras (or sweet) curry powder, divided
1 tsp garam masala
4 cloves minced garlic, divided
1 T tomato paste
2 Sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite sized cubes
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
water
1-2 tsp red wine or sherry vinegar

*Ingredient notes: I’ve recommended the French de Puy Lentils here, as I like that they keep their shape a bit more than standard brown or green lentils, but if you can’t find them, by all means, substitute with your favorite variety of lentil.

You will typically find fresh curry leaves at Indian or Asian Markets – a flat, waxy leaf, you’ll know them when you smell them, and when you do, buy a couple of bunches and keep them in your freezer in a plastic Ziploc bag, so that you can pull out a few leaves as you need them.  Fresh curry leaves add an extra earthy punch that you just can’t get from ground curry leaves that create intense aroma in the finished dish. If you can’t find curry leaves, add an extra teaspoon or two of curry powder for a little extra oomph.

  1. Soaking the lentils:  Boil up a kettle of water, and add 2 T kosher salt to a 2qt bowl. Add the lentils, and cover with 3-4 inches of water, stirring to dissolve the salt. Soak for 1-2 hours while you prep the veggies for the rest of the soup and perhaps enjoy a cup of tea.
  2. Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add 1 T butter and 1 T olive oil to the hot pan. When the butter has melted, add 1 T brown mustard seeds and 6 fresh curry leaves sliced into ribbons. Stir around with a spatula until you start to hear the mustard seeds start to pop and jump around in the oil.
  3. Add the diced onion, carrots and bell pepper to the pot with a pinch of kosher salt, and saute for 5-8 minutes, until the onion is translucent, stirring every now and then.
  4. Add 1 ½ T of madras curry powder, 1 tsp garam masala, ¼ tsp red pepper flakes and 2 minced cloves of garlic to the softened vegetables and stir for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
  5. Drain the lentils, and rinse for a few seconds under running water in a sieve. Pour the lentils into the pot along with the tomato paste and cover with 2 inches of water, cover and bring to a boil. Once the soup reaches a boil, turn the heat down to low and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes, until the lentils are nearly tender, and just a tad on the al dente side. Stir the pot whenever you think of it, but it doesn’t need a lot of babysitting. Add more water if the lentils get too thick, you want the soup to have a bit of broth to it.
  6. Add the cubed sweet potatoes to the pot, stirring them in, and then cook covered for another 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender. As before, pour a little more water into the pot as needed.
  7. When the lentils and potatoes are tender, it’s time to spice up the soup. Heat a small pan over medium heat, then add the remaining 1 T of olive oil, 2 cloves minced garlic, remaining and 6 fresh curry leaves sliced into ribbons. Cook for 2 minutes until the curry leaves start to crisp and the garlic has softened a bit, and then add the 1 T madras curry powder, and stir for 30 more seconds.
  8. Pour the oil and spice mixture into the soup and stir. The last hit of spices and oil will brighten up the soup and refresh the curry flavors.
  9. Finally, season the soup with kosher salt to taste – it might take a healthy pinch or two to get the right balance, and finish with 1-2 tsp of red wine or sherry vinegar to brighten the flavor of the cooked lentils. Serve your hungry guests.

Ready to Run: Poblano & Mojo Pasta

It’s not much to look at, is it? Sometimes, a seemingly beige bowl of pasta spiked with chiles is just the thing to wake you up and get ready for the next challenge. Life continues at breakneck pace for me with work, half-marathon training and too many evening obligations that have been taking me away from the stove.

I spent Friday night volunteering for the American Cancer Society at the Skyline Soiree. The party delighted 350 guests with a night of carnival games, dancing, food and cocktails to support our fight against cancer. I had a blast working the mini-golf carnival game and witnessed a roomful of adults clamoring to play and win a silly jelly ring that had LED blinking lights inside…by the end of the evening, the tent was a giant mass of dancers alight with blinking rings. Sometimes grown-ups just need a night off to play like the kids.

After the fundraising was done, I was staring down a double-race weekend and feeling like I bit off a lot more than I could handle. At the last minute, I signed Mark and I up for a 5K race on Saturday, in addition to the Race Against Hate 10K we already had planned on Sunday. The 5K was at 5:00 p.m. and miserably hot and humid – neither of us were at our best. I won’t call the 5K a total loss, though, as it gave us a chance to meet up with some of the awesome DailyMile members that have been cheering for me online for months now as I prep for the half-marathon.

By the time we got home, our stomachs were rumbling, and I wanted to have a “proper” pre-race meal, so I boiled up some Bio-naturae gluten-free linguine, and rummaged through the crisper to come up with something quick and healthy. I came back with onion, some of that liquid gold mojo de ajo confited garlic, and a couple of huge poblano peppers. While the pasta boiled, I simply sauteed the veggies with a little olive oil, added some salt & pepper and tossed the peppers with the cooked linguine and a little cooking water. A squeeze of lemon and a little finely grated aged gouda, and we had a pretty great meal to sit down to. Photos were an afterthought, but I’m glad to have captured a little of the meal, as it’s a simple dish we’ll definitely make again – maybe even the night before the next race.

For the runners out there – what’s your favorite pre-race meal? Or, what’s your favorite way to use chiles in your cooking? Share in the comments below…

Poblano & Mojo Linguine
Serves 2

6oz Bionature gluten-free linguine
2 poblano peppers, seeded and cut into long, thin strips
1/2 onion, sliced
1 T olive oil
1/4 cup mojo de ajo
1/4-1/2 cup pasta cooking water
salt to taste
lots of fresh ground black pepper
Squeeze of lemon juice
Garnish with finely grated aged gouda or parmesan

  1. Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil.
  2. While the water heats, slice the poblanos and onion. When the water is boiling, add the linguine and cook uncovered until al dente – about 10 minutes on my stove. Stir the pot often, so the linguine doesn’t stick together. As the pasta cooks, make the “sauce.” Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil, poblanos and onion to the pan with a pinch of salt, and saute until the veggies have softened and just begun to caramelize at the edges – it should take just about the same amount of time that the pasta will need to cook.
  3. Before draining the pasta, scoop out 1/2 cup of the pasta water to help bind the pasta together. Drain the pasta quickly and add to the pan with the peppers and onions. Add the mojo de ajo and toss quickly to coat. Add some of the pasta water to help the flavors blend together. Grate lots of fresh black pepper over the pasta, and add salt if needed. Hit the pan with a squeeze or two of lemon juice just to brighten the flavors. Serve, and garnish with fresh grated aged gouda or parmesan.


The Race Against Hate Running Crew: Mark, Jeremy, Jenn, Steve, Katey, Dave, Danielle, Lane, Chris, Debbie, Shelley, Aria