15 November 2010

Soupy Sunday

A few weeks ago the weather shifted from ridiculously hot to ever-so-slightly cool; a shift that signals fall here in Texas. Seasonal transitions always inspire me and this one was particularly welcome because it meant I could finally have another dinner party. (My house is so tiny that any group of four or more for dinner requires dining al fresco.) Anticipating that this day would eventually, mercifully arrive, I've been drooling over the "sunday suppers" in this cookbook, dreaming of making a whole menu for friends some Sunday this fall. The cool breezes, however, did not blow in a windfall for the ole bank account and instead I settled on a far more humble, but no less delicious menu.

We would have soup. Soup, I think, is the perfect main course for a simple dinner party. Many soups can be made at least a day ahead (I'm a big believer in soup tasting better the next day), reheated, and served. Hearty bean and grain-based soups make a filling meal that usually pleases vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Pair the soup with a salad, and maybe some breads and cheese, and you're set.

For my soup party I decided to try out a very unique sounding lentil soup from one of my favorite food blogs, 101 cookbooks. Usually Heidi's recipes look and sound gorgeous but I've made very few because they often call for whole grains, produce, and spices that I don't readily have available. This soup, however, appealed to me in its simplicity--it's nothing more than lentils and split peas seasoned with a few flavorful ingredients. Plus the recipe called for coconut milk and I'm a complete sucker for coconut milk-based soups.

So here she is folks, coconut red lentil soup. What she lacks in looks she makes up for in flavor, I promise. I'm not a big fan of split pea soups in general but combined with the lentils and all the other fabulous flavors they were really nice here. I decided to serve the soup over white basmati rice which was tasty but unnecessary given the heartiness of the soup itself. And, because I couldn't help myself, I also served these delicious, slightly spicy sweet potato biscuits on the side. As you can see from the photo below, my biscuits were a bit on the squat side, but I assure you, this is a winner of a recipe. Lily brought a tasty cranberry and walnut salad and Amanda and Lenny's carrot cupcakes took it over the top!

All told, soupy Sunday was a smashing success and I'm already scheming up the next one. Here's a parting action scarfing shot of the evening. Hopefully those pictured will forgive me.

Coconut Red Lentil Soup
*from the Esalen Cookbook via 101 cookbooks

1 cup yellow split peas
1 cup red split lentils
7 cups water
1 medium carrot, diced
2 T peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 T curry powder (make sure it's fresh!)
2 T butter
8 scallions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 14 oz can coconut milk (you can use 'light' if you're feeling virtuous)
2 tsp fine grain sea salt
handful chopped cilantro

Rinse the peas and lentils well under running water. Place in a large soup pot, cover with the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, add carrot and 1/4 of ginger, cover and simmer for about 30 mins. until peas are tender.

Meanwhile, in a dry skillet over low heat, toast the curry powder until it is fragrant. Careful not to burn it! Set it aside. Place the butter in the pan over medium heat and add half the onions, the rest of the ginger, and the raisins. Saute for a few minutes, then add the tomato paste and saute for a few more. Add the curry powder to this mixture and then add it to the simmering soup along with the coconut milk and salt.

Simmer uncovered for about 20 more minutes or until it reaches your desired thickness (longer for thicker--you can always thin it with more water). Serve topped with cilantro and remaining onions as garnish. It's also great over rice or another whole grain.

Serves 6-8 generously.