This has to be THE favorite soup in our home. The lentils and vegetables sing with lemon and rosemary. It has had a long journey of development—souping together various bits and pieces, many influences, over the years. It is a delectable meal in a bowl that keeps well for 4 days and can be frozen as well for 2-3 weeks. I always make two batches and freeze one for the day I have no time to cook or for when I am not well.
We did not grow up eating lentils. It turns out that people from the state of Gujarat do not normally eat lentils (masoor), the whole brown ones (sabot) or the split orange ones (dal). Lentils never entered our home or the home of anyone I knew. I never came across them in the UK as a student in the early 70s. It was only later in the 90s that I saw my sister cook them in Texas. As I was talking about this with a friend, she realized that she too had never seen or had lentils until she came to the US. She got a bag of orange lentils from an Indian grocery store. Upon seeing the bag on the kitchen counter, her mother was horrified and asked her to take it back to the store saying we do not eat masoor. They are now a part of her diet.
It has been puzzling as to why this was the case and if people in Gujarat still frown upon eating masoor. It is eaten in many parts of India, both north and south, and even some South Indian sambhar recipes suggest its use. Toor/arhar/pigeon peas dal is perhaps the most commonly eaten dal, but the sambhar recipes offer masoor as an economical option to the other much more expensive dals. So perhaps masoor was considered “poor man’s food” in Gujarat and parts of India?
It has taken me a while to note, measure, and write down this recipe which is always made instinctively. My friends who have received containers of it when they have not been well can now make it any time they wish. This is also for my sons, who do not cook yet, but one day may want the recipes that they have grown up enjoying—our own fusion cooking that brings together our numerous threads and happy travels as we continue on our own food and family journey.
I use rice to give the soup some body and the cooked rice tends to melt away into the soup. If you want more grain, you can easily add more rice or quinoa or farro or cracked wheat—any grain that has the same cooking time as lentil.
1 cup lentils (brown, green, black whatever you like or have)
2 1/2 cups of water
1/4 cup uncooked rice (any kind you have except parboiled)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons oil (olive or a neutral oil)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste, optional)
1 cup minced onion (yellow or red, medium)
Salt to taste (add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the onions, a pinch to the vegetables)
2 cups minced or finely diced celery (5-6 stalks including leaves, de-string the stalk if they are very stringy)
2 cups carrots minced or finely diced (about4-6 depending on the size, just under 1 pound)
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary (or to taste)
1/2 preserved lemon minced (use skin and pulp)—if you do not have preserved lemon, use a teaspoon of lemon zest and a teaspoon or two of lemon juice
1 11.5 oz/340 ml Original V8
- Pick the lentils and cook them with the water, rice (no need to rinse), salt, and rosemary. After the water comes to a simmer, partially cover the pot to minimize overflowing, and simmer on medium low heat—keep it simmering gently! But watch the pot and stir every now and then. Depending on the pot and stove, and the lentil, it can take 12-20 minutes. Check on the water level, adding more if needed. The lentils should not be dry. Cook them till they are cooked through but not falling apart and mushy—this is more likely with brown lentils than the other kind. Even if they do get a bit soft, it is okay! The lentils may be ready before the vegetables—in that case, uncover the pot and take it off the heat till the vegetables are done.
- In the meantime, heat a heavy skillet and add the oil. Throw in the pepper flakes, if using, and then the onions and salt. It really helps to have the vegetables minced and diced before you start. But you can continue dicing while the lentils and onions are cooking. Back to the onions, cook them on a medium-low heat (there should be enough heat for a little bubbling or else it will not cook!). Keep them covered and stir every now and then for even browning. This is low and slow—expect to take 10-15 minutes. And it is happening along with the lentils.
- Once the onions are beautifully rich and golden brown, add the celery and carrots along with a pinch of salt if you are not using the preserved lemon. Add the preserved lemon (which is preserved in salt), rosemary, lemon zest (if using it instead of preserved lemon). Give it all a good stir. Cover and cook again on medium look heat, stirring every now and then. As the vegetables cook, they will start changing color and the colors will to be as bright. They will start softening. You will not need any water if the temperature is right and the pan is covered—if they do start to stick and burn, add a tablespoon or two of water. Cook the vegetables the way you like them—we like ours cooked through, not crisp.
- Add the vegetables to the pot of lentils, pour in the can of V8, fill the empty can of V8 with a cup of cold water, and add it to the pot. Give it a good stir and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Adjust the water to the consistency you like and taste for salt, lemon, and pepper levels, making adjustments as needed. The color of the soup will deepen and get brighter. It will get thicker. Some like it soupy; some like it thick like a stew.
Enjoy a hot bowl with a drizzle of olive oil if extra richness is needed. Some may like grated Parmesan sprinkled on top. Or have it just as it is, satisfying and delicious, made from simple basic ingredients.
Preserved lemons: I always have a jar in the fridge and just five minutes of effort yields so much in flavor. I take 3-5 lemons depending on the size of the jar and the size of the lemons. Wash, pat dry, and quarter the lemons. Spread a layer of kosher salt on the bottom of jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add a layer of lemon wedges. Cover them with a layer of salt so you cannot see the surface of the lemon and press down. Add another of layer of wedges and salt, press down and keep going until you almost fill the jar, topping with a generous amount of kosher salt. Cover the top of the jar with a clear plastic and screw the lid on—you do not want any metal in touch with the salt or lemons. Leave in a shaded spot on the counter for a couple of weeks. As the salt turns to brine, invert the jar every day for a couple of seconds. The lemons will start softening and changing color. After a couple of weeks put them in the fridges where they will stay for months, continuing to soften and mellow gently. Use the brine in salad dressing, cooking vegetables, rice, etc.
Preparation time: 15-30 minutes (depends on how long mincing and dicing takes!) Cooking time: 45 -60 minutes
Even tastier than it looks!