Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Winter soups 1: lentil with caramelised onion, cumin and lemon

Today I am writing a lecture on Charles Saatchi, but thought I would just take a little breakie to give you a thrifty and cheering winter soup recipe. Yes, it's that classic veggie-on-a-budget standby: lentil. Wait! don't go away! This is lentil with added chic and deliciousness! Or rather with added caramelised onion, cumin and lemon. Tastes amazing; costs pennies. Trust me.

The secret of this soup is that it contains everything that turns lentils from frugal to fabulous. Lentils love garlic and they love cumin. There is something about this combination that equals utter ber-liss. Add lemon and salt, and the balance between sweet, earthy, sour and salty reaches every tastebud on your tongue. (Don't under-salt, by the way. And yes, I do know it's not the healthiest, but lentils really do need seasoning generously.) The other thing that lentils really love is a serious drink of oil. This is what transforms them from healthy-but-dull, to decadently silky and creamy comfort-food. I don't know how it works, but can only conclude that it is some form of magical alchemy.

Lentil soup with caramelised onion, cumin and lemon:*

5oz red lentils
1 red onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Sunflower oil
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
Juice of half a lemon

Cover the lentils with water and boil till soft, skimming off any icky scum that forms on the top. Add more water if they get too thick.

Get 2cm oil very hot in a wide frying pan, separate the onion slices and add to the oil. Stir and remove when golden (you will probably have to do this in two batches). Fry the garlic slices till light-tan in colour. When the lentils are cooked to a smooth soup, add the garlic, most of the onion and some of the oil (keeping back some onion for garnishing).

Add the cumin, a pinch of salt and some of the lemon juice to the soup and adjust flavours to taste (this is the most important bit). Serve topped with the rest of the caramelised onions. Some chopped coriander is pretty yum, too.

Right, back to Mr Saatchi, Mr Hirst, and their lovely furry friends. Ah, the trials of being a vegan art historian...

* This is my own recipe, but owes much in inspiration to the wonderful Moro Cookbook. I cannot recommend the Moro restaurant, or their books highly enough if you like Spanish and Middle-Eastern food, and frankly, who doesn't?

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