Soups are among the simplest of food preparations, using almost anything you can find in the kitchen, and yet they can also be the most creative, attractive, satisfying, and nutritious entrées, or even whole meals. On a chilly winter or spring evening there is nothing as welcoming as the smell of hot soup simmering on the stove! Many of us work and commute in overheated spaces; soups hydrate and nourish our thirsty bodies.
Soup recipes are flexible and versatile, allowing for adjustments to meet individual requirements. Vegetarians and vegans can easily omit meat or dairy from a soup recipe, replacing them with tofu, soymilk, or soy yogurt. Most soups can be made ahead, or in large quantities. Some soups, like dals, taste even better the second day.
No Indian meal is complete without a dal. The simplest Indian meal can be a dal served with rice or chapati. Dal can be usually prepared in less than an hour, and yet this simple dish is extremely important as it is rich in protein, minerals, and vitamins.
The consistency of prepared dals varies according to the recipe and its intended use in a given menu. A dal can be prepared as thin as a rasam, a South Indian consommé that is intended to be served as a first course, or it can be thicker and more substantial, intended to be served as an entrée or a meal in itself.
This is a hearty South Indian dal that I have adapted into a more substantial entrée by adding lots of fresh vegetables, a sure way to meet the family’s vitamin needs.
1 cup toor dal or red lentils
2 fresh or dehydrated tamarind pods, or 1 tablespoon unsweetened tamarind concentrate, or juice of one lemon mixed with a teaspoon of sugar
8 cups of water
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon each coriander and turmeric powders
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 fresh hot chili such as jalapeño, minced after removing core and seeds
1 tablespoon peanut, corn, or safflower oil
¼ cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup finely chopped bell pepper
1 cup cauliflower or broccoli florets, cut small
1 cup each carrot, eggplant, celery, and zucchini, cut into ¼” cubes
1 tablespoon dry, shredded coconut
1 cup fresh or canned chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 or 3 whole dried hot chilis
a pinch of hing
a few sprigs of cilantro for garnish
Rinse the lentils in very hot water a few times to remove dust and any oil it may have been coated with. If you are using fresh tamarind pods, remove the outer skin and pits and soak the pulp in one-half cup of warm water for 10 minutes. Dehydrated tamarind usually does not contain skin or pits and should be soaked the same way.
Boil the water and add the lentils. Simmer briskly for 15 minutes. Add the salt, powdered spices, ginger, and minced chili. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes while preparing the vegetables.
Cut the vegetables as specified. Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the onions and peppers for a few minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables and the shredded coconut, and stir-fry for about five minutes. Add the vegetables and the tomatoes to the pot of cooking daal.
Add the tamarind sauce, concentrate, or lemon-sugar mixture to the pot. Simmer on a low heat while preparing for the last very important step, called vaghar. It is vaghar that sets a dal apart from any other soup.
For vaghar, heat the oil in a small saucepan. Add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the cumin seeds and dry chilis. Quickly add the hing, and then pour all of this smoky oil mixture into the pot of dal. Dip the small pan right into the dal to get it all off quickly and cover immediately. Turn off the heat and keep the pot covered for three to five minutes. Then uncover, stir, and correct the seasoning.
Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with rice or chapati. Instruct your diners to remove the whole chilis before they eat.
DAAL CHOWDER WITH SALSA
This quick and simple recipe was inspired by a co-worker who was recovering from having her wisdom teeth pulled and requested that I make her a meal that would be soft, nourishing, and tasty. I invented this recipe using ingredients I had in stock. Since then it has become my favorite dal recipe for times when I am in a hurry for a quick, warm, delicious soup.
4 cups water
1 cup red lentils
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup tomato salsa (purchased, or made using the recipe below)
1 teaspoon grated or minced fresh ginger root
1 cup corn kernels; frozen and thawed or freshly scraped from an ear of a corn
juice of ½ lemon
salt to taste
Bring the water to a boil. Rinse the lentils thoroughly and add to the boiling water. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. While the lentils are cooking prepare the salsa and other ingredients. To prepare the salsa, combine the following ingredients in a food processor or chop them finely with a knife.
½ cup finely chopped fresh tomatoes
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion or scallions (greens removed)
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro (stems removed)
1 tablespoon mined jalapeño pepper (seeds and inner veins removed)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
2 teaspoons Mexican chili spice blend
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
Combine all ingredients, stir well, and set aside. Prepare the other ingredients above as specified. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the salsa, ginger, and corn. Stir-fry for a few minutes to combine the flavors. Add this mixture to the cooking lentils. Simmer the soup for 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice and salt. Correct the seasoning and serve hot with rice, bread, or tortillas.
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine lives in San Francisco where she is a manager of Other Avenues, a health food store. Her daughter Serena Sacharoff is an illustrator and art student.