Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ottolenghi's lentil soup

The next time I am in London (though I have no idea when that will be!) there is one visit I am determined to make: at least one of the Ottolenghi locations. I've heard great things about this super-stylish chain of delis; in their own words, they are the haute couture of food-to-go! Maybe one of these days they will consider making a foray across the pond to cities in the US.

Till then, though, I shall content myself with cooking up recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi's series in The Guardian, The New Vegetarian. When I first came across it I was struck by how aptly it is named - his recipes are very innovative, yet familiar. Mostly Mediterranean in character but with all kinds of other influences thrown in every now and then. I've tried a few, some with my own modifications, and all with excellent results. Just reading his recipes, with their bold flavor combinations, is hugely exciting. The only reason I haven't made all of them is that they tend to have long ingredient lists and appear somewhat time-intensive, too. I would love to eat like that every day but it's just not practical on a regular basis.

The fall weather on the East Coast has been so gloomy so far that I have been craving soup, so when I caught sight of Ottolenghi's Thai Lentil Soup, I knew I had to make it. This one uses mostly inexpensive pantry ingredients and, like most blended soups, is a snap to make too. My taste buds were tingling in anticipation as I chopped up the onion, stirred in some of my home-made red curry paste and waited while the lentils simmered away.

Well, suffice it to say that I was not disappointed! This is a perfect soup for cooler days. The velvety smooth lentils are a wonderful background for the bright flavors of the curry paste, lime and cilantro; the coconut milk adds a subtle silky nuttiness; and the sweet crunch of the snow peas and the fried shallots round everything out marvelously. I polished off two bowls double quick, barely stopping to take a picture! I love the flavors in Asian soups but don't find them hearty enough for cold weather; this one has the best of both worlds. I am already planning to try variations with butternut squash or carrots.

Yotam Ottolenghi's Thai Red Lentil Soup (Serves 4)

I did not have any lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves, so I added a bit of ginger and hot green pepper in their place. If you have the inclination, it is well worth the little bit of effort to make your own curry pastes, it's very economical, and once you're done you can freeze them in 2-tbsp portions to use as needed. For me, the added attraction is that I know they won't contain things like fish sauce and shrimp paste! And if you can't find deep-fried shallots, it is easy to make your own - just fry sliced shallots till crisp and browned in a little bit of oil over medium-high heat, and drain on a paper towel until cool. They can be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature for a few days, though to be honest I don't know how long since I get through them pretty quick whenever I've made any!

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