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Thursday, May 28, 2009

lentil soup with vanilla, cumin and coriander

Yes, you read right. There is Vanilla in this lentil soup. In fact it is a whole vanilla pod thrown in for good measure. I learnt to make this soup, as most of my Moroccan recipes on the schoolyard, from my friend Samira.

I remember the first time I had lentil soup in Marrakesh. The cumin and coriander were easily identified but there is a somewhat mysterious scent and flavour which I didn't immediately attribute to Vanilla. At home when experimenting with the soup, I used saffron, orange blossom water and rosewater and can't quite capture that same taste. I can't find this mysterious flavour in books either until I had a similar soup in Samira's house one autumn morning in 2005.

She revealed the secret was Vanilla and it had to be vanilla pod because using essence (and extract as I later found out) doesn't quite marry well with the earthy cumin and coriander. After cooking, the texture develop into a hybrid of stew and soup which is light although still quite filling. Although it is delicious to eat immediately, try to make the soup early in the morning if you're eating it for dinner. Letting the soup rest for a long period will totally transform the flavour. Or cook it the night before you're planning to eat it. Delicious eaten with bread or as we always do, couscous complimented with harissa, Greek yogurt and lemon on the side.

Lentil soup with vanilla, cumin and coriander
100g channa Dala
50g of Urad Dal
400g canned tomato
1 TBSP tomato puree
1 red paprika
5 baby carrots - peeled and chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp whole cumin
1 tsp whole coriander
1 pod vanilla pod
2 cm ginger - peeled and sliced
2 garlic - crushed
1 large onion - sliced
olive oil
salt and pepper for seasoning
fresh parsley and chives
1. Combine the lentils, wash thoroughly and leave to boil until softened. Strain. Save the liquid for later.
2. Roast the paprika over the hob, peel the skin and scrape the seed out.
3. Heat up the saucepan and toast the cumin, coriander, cinnamon and vanilla pod for 2 minutes. Take them out. Place the cumin and coriander in a mortar and crush with the pestle. Scrape the vanilla pod off its seeds.
4. Pour some olive oil in the same saucepan and brown the onion.
5. Add the garlic and ginger and fry 1-2 minutes.
6. Add in the spices and vanilla.
7. Add in the lentils and mix thoroughly.
8. Add the tomato with the juice from the can, tomato paste, carrots, roasted paprika and liquid in which the lentils were cooked in.
9. Stir everything to combine, season with salt and pepper to taste and leave to simmer for about half an hour.
10. Serve with chopped parsley and chives, harissa, yoghurt and lemon on the side.
Note: I find this soup to be a great way to utilise *used* vanilla pods which seeds have been scraped out for baking or pudding. The other ways are of course to make your own vanilla sugar and extract.


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