I’ve been eating this really versatile curried carrot and lentil soup for the last couple of days, and I got inspired to chat about soups in general. Good soup is a gentle indulgence. Few plates of food can be as satisfying, and few spoken about with such reverence, passion, and gusto. I don’t want to pretend that I know what makes soup great, or even what makes a great soup. Soups, like all foods, are intimate, personal affairs colored by experience and preference. But I will speak to the general practice, or technique of soup, through this example of my recent product.
Like most of my cooking, soup starts with ingredients that happen to be staring me in the face. This is my ‘best guess’ recipe for the carrot-lentil-curry soup, and an explanation of both how this soup happened for me, and how it might happen for you.
1 large red onion (rough chop)
2 cups carrot (thin slices)
2 TBSP garlic (rough chop)
2 TBSP red curry paste
1 tsp chili flakes
1 bunch rosemary (in cheesecloth)
1 cup lentils
1 qt chicken stock
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 TBSP butter
Salt and Cayenne pepper to taste
As you may know by now, I’m not huge on recipes. To borrow a phrase; no one ever steps in the same recipe twice, for it’s not the same food, and they aren’t the same person. And so, with cooking, it’s all about looking, responding, and using techniques. As a side bar, I’ve been listening to Tim Ferriss’ audio book, “The 4-Hour Work Week“, and have subliminally been motivated into thinking in acronyms. I didn’t realize it until just now. Thanks Tim, great stuff so far! EDGE is a decent acronym for cooking well.
Evaluate the ingredients, the weather /season, consider who you might be cooking for (your audience), and whatever else informs your cooking. Based on your evaluation, Decide which direction to take the ingredients (bisque, stew, curry, chowder, puree, broth, etc.). Gather the items that you need, if that requires shopping or going to the pantry, and literally bring them all together (mise en place). Then, Execute your vision using a short list of techniques.
For example: Knowing that I wanted to make a soup (because it was a crisp San Francisco day and soup sounded satisfying), I opened the refrigerator with that in mind. We had carrots from our last CSA delivery. Seeing the carrots reminded me of a great Thai curry, carrot, coconut soup I used to make a lot, so I started thinking about that soup and poked around for more good stuff. Red onion, garlic, red Thai curry paste, fresh herbs, chicken stock, lentils, not the soup I used to make, but good soup stuffs for sure. So I brought all the ingredients out to play and proceeded with what I would call “Soup Basics”.
Step One – Sweat the veggies and / or aromatics.
This is the basis of so much cooking. Cut your aromatics (onions, and garlic here) and cook them with plenty of oil over a medium low heat until they are soft and translucent. BUT, since carrots are a major part of the soup, I started by cooking the carrots first, and adding the aromatics once the carrots were mostly tender. I also add the curry paste here to cook it and develop the flavor, as well as the chili flakes to really bring out the spice and infuse it throughout the whole soup. Could just just throw it all in together? Sure. I mean, were making soup here, a puree of vegetable matter soup. But, I cook the way I cook. I feel like the vegetables will all be uniformly soft and cooked through if I cook them this way. Please suit yourselves.
Step Two – Add liquid
I just gave my copy of Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio to a friend. For the number folks out there (and I see you), this is a well made book that will offer insights into cooking techniques and principals. I didn’t measure when I made this soup, but I’m sure the ratio of liquid to solids is very close to the ratio you can find in his book.
Once the vegetables were soft, I added the chicken stock and then the lentils and fresh herbs. I brought to all of this to a boil, reduced to a simmer, put a lid on it, and went for a jog. When I get back the lentils were soft, and ready to roll. At this point, I could have served the soup as a hearty lentil stew of sorts, but that wasn’t where I was headed.
Step Three – Correct the consistency and seasoning.
So, instead of the lentil stew looking back at me, I wanted a creamy puree. I wanted to add a little more depth of flavor, along with some color and moisture at this point, so that’s when the can of tomato bits came to the party. I removed the bundle of herbs and puree the soup until I was satisfied with the consistency. Then I tasted for balance. For me, the soup needed a little more bite of acid and a good punch of salt. I also felt like a little chunk of butter would be welcome. For me, it’s almost always welcome, let’s be real.
I hope that you found some inspiration for your own cooking in this recap. Please contact me if you make this recipe, and let me know how it came out in your kitchen.
Eat well, and Be well-