I first made this recipe (from Maria Elias’ excellent ‘The Modern Vegetarian’) because I was intrigued by the flavours it promised. I will make it again and again because it is superb.
The addition of orange may be unusual, but it makes its present felt in subtle ways. If you are a wine buff you would say it has ‘a long finish with citrus notes’ – a perhaps pretentious way of saying that it has a delicate perfume that stays with you after every spoonful.
The Greek yogurt adds a little tang, and takes the edge off the heat of the spice – which I then add back in by sprinkling each bowl with a little dried chilli, which is entirely optional.
RECIPE serves 4
250g red lentils
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 red chilli, (deseeded if you don’t like heat), finely chopped
2 fat garlic cloves, crushed
50g (or a fat thumb) fresh root ginger, grated
4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp paprika
a pinch of cayenne pepper
2 tsp vegetarian or vegan bouillon
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 long cinnamon stick
2 large oranges
4 tbsp Greek yogurt
fresh mint leaves, to garnish
a sprinkling of dried chilli flakes, to garnish
Put the lentils in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Drain in a fine sieve/colander and rinse with cold water. This step cleans the lentils of any impurities. Set aside.
Finely chop the onion, celery, carrot and chilli. You can roughly chop them then blitz them in a food processor if you have one. These ingredients are there to give you a deep flavour base, not to add any texture.
In a large saucepan, add the chopped onion, celery, carrot and chilli together with the ginger and garlic. Saute over a medium heat for around 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened. Meanwhile, put the cumin, turmeric, paprika and cayenne pepper into a small bowl, add a little water and mix to make a stiff paste.
Add the spice paste to the sauteed vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, for around 2 minutes until aromatic. Now add the lentils, bouillon, tomato puree, cinnamon stick (left whole) and 750ml just-boiled water.
Finely grate the zest from one orange into the pan, then cut off the top and bottom of each orange and cut away the skin, leaving only the flesh. Cut the flesh into small pieces and add to the pan. Bring to the boil then reduce to a gentle simmer for around 30 minutes until the lentils are meltingly soft. You may need to add a little water to keep it loose as it cooks.
When cooked, remove the cinnamon stick from the soup and then blend using a hand blender. You can leave it slightly chunky, or blend until smooth, it is entirely up to you.
Adjust the seasoning to taste, then stir in the Greek yogurt. Serve topped with a few lightly shredded mint leaves and a light sprinkling of dried chilli flakes, alongside rustic bread.