March is a busy month. Which is kind of ironic, really, since March is kind of dead in the restaurant business... Yet, I am always running around like a headless chicken in March, trying to get all my seeds in pots of soil, turning my compost so that it'll be ready in time for the new beds, signing up for classes to fill in the empty spots in my work schedule...
I end up feeling a little harassed and frazzled, and cooking kind of gets pushed to the back burner. Luckily, I have some soup in the freezer to sustain me. However, my fridge also needs a good cleaning out, so the freezer will have to wait today.
I've been meaning to make some lentil soup for some time, and it'll be the perfect thing to use up the bunch of carrots that have been waiting in the fridge. Although I am getting a planter ready for early salads, I am not quite ready to be eating light spring meals just yet. I still crave hearty foods, and my fridge still holds a plethora of roots. So soup it is.
Carrot and lentil are a classic pairing, and go well with winter fares like pot roast and braised lamb shank. Green lentils really convey that wintry image with its muddy green colour and earthy flavour, but red lentils are brighter not just in colour, but also in flavour. They're actually just regular lentils without their skins, so they cook up pretty much like split peas and are ideal for soups. If you keep a close eye on them during cooking, you can keep them whole for a salad or a sidedish, but they make such a lovely soup that you needn't put in the extra effort.
If you tend to shy away from dried beans, lentils are the perfect gateway legume for you: they do not require long soakings, are quick to cook and they tend to be less gas-inducing than other beans. Lentils are packed with nutrition: a great source of fibre, they provide your body with slow burning sugars. They are also high in iron and are a good source of vitamin B1, both necessary to keep your energy levels up at this time of the year. I don't know about you, but I tend to get easily fatigued at the end of winter, it might be the anticipation of spring or just the excess of activity, either way lentils give me a boost when I need one.
This soup is a beautiful, energy-boosting orange, and its aroma is DIVINE! It may be old hat to some, but it never ceases to impress when it is ladled out at dinner.
Spiced Carrot and Red Lentil Soup
serves 4-ish as a meal
1 medium onion
4 medium carrots
2 cups/ 250g red lentils
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
2 Tbs oil or butter
Peel and roughly chop onion and carrots.
Melt butter or oil in a pot, add onion and carrots, as wells as spices, garlic and orange zest.
Let vegetables sweat until onions are translucent.
Add lentils and enough water to cover by 5cm (2") -about 1.5L (6cups). You can also use stock if you have it.
Bring to a boil. When the water has come to a rolling boil, turn heat down to medium-low, check water level -it should still cover everything, if not add some.
Simmer until carrots are fork tender (for a chunky soup) or really mushy (for a smooth purée).
Try to find the bay leaf before blending. Add the reserved orange juice.
Using a blender, stick or otherwise, purée the soup, stopping when it is of your preferred texture.
Season to taste.
Serve the soup with a dollop of yoghurt or sour cream and some chopped herbs (cilantro or parsley). You can add crunchy croûtons or nothing at all.
Makes a nice filling meal, but won't weigh you down.