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April, 2009

Lentil Soup with Toasted Cumin

By Heidi Allison

Take a sip of this soup and you’ll be seduced—the slightly sweet, earthy French lentils are transformed by the warm spice notes of the toasted cumin and mustard seed, which is followed by a kiss of heat from the sweet, red jalapeño.

Steamed Lentils
An upscale rendition, this hearty, lentil vegetarian soup is a new twist to a quintessential, comfort food favorite. The difference between a merely good lentil soup and a great lentil soup is in the details — you must layer its flavors, which is done in three steps. First, caramelize the vegetables in a neutral-tasting oil to create the foundation of the soup. Don’t rush this process—the carrots, celery and onion must be slowly cooked over a gentle heat to bring up their natural sweetness and complex flavors before adding the tomatoes. Done correctly, this step produces a more rounded taste and greater depth of flavor in the finished dish. The next flavor layer is created by infusing the soup with spices — toasted cumin and mustard seed lend warm, comforting spice notes that elevate the somewhat boring lentil into a taste sensation you’ll want to experience, again and again. The final step is squeezing a few drops of fresh lemon juice into the soup right before serving. Citrus is a secret ingredient that chefs use to finish legume soups—it lends a crucial flash of freshness that you would miss if it were not there. Follow this three-fold process, and you’ll create a nuanced, well-balanced and magnificent soup.

But this one-pot meal brings more to the table than just good taste — it’s not only good for your wallet, it’s also great for your heart and GI tract! Lentils are a great source of cholesterol-fighting fiber, keep blood sugar levels stable, provide 6 important nutrients, 2 B-vitamins and protein — with virtually no fat! Folate reduces levels of homocysteine (damages artery walls and is considered a serious risk for heart disease), while magnesium relaxes artery walls and lowers high blood pressure. Moreover, new research discovered lentils are phenomenal prebiotics (food for probiotics) — they drive down bad bacteria while helping good bacteria thrive in the GI tract. Lentils also promote a more acidic intestinal environment, which helps the body absorb minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium. To help your body absorb the most iron, it’s important to add vitamin C rich foods, such as tomatoes, to any lentil recipe.

Lentil Soup with Toasted Cumin
Serves: 8 (as a main course)
Lentil Soup with Toasted Cumin
Ingredients:
Toasted cumin oil
5 Tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. cumin seed
1 tsp. yellow mustard seed

Soup
1 Tbsp. canola olive oil
3 stalks celery, sliced into ½-inch rounds
2 carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch rounds
1 yellow onion, diced
1 (10 oz. pkg.) cherry grape tomatoes cut in half
2 (17.63 oz. pkgs.) Steamed Ready-to-Eat Lentils
9 cups water
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
5 Tbsp.canola oil

Preparation:
Heat 4 tablespoons of canola oil in a 8-inch nonstick pan on medium heat until warm. Add mustard seed and cumin seed, and cook until mustard seeds start to pop and cumin seeds take on a brown color (about three minutes). Remove from heat and set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil in an 8-quart pot on medium-low heat till warm, then add carrots, onions and celery. Cook until vegetables have softened and are beginning to brown, 15-20 minutes. Add red jalapeño and grape tomatoes, and cook an additional 10 minutes. Add lentils, water, and toasted cumin oil, and cook for 1 ½ hours, or until the soup reduces by ¼ and lentils are beginning to break down. Season soup with salt and stir. Ladle lentil soup into large bowls and top with a few drops of fresh lemon juice, and then stir again. Serve immediately.

Notes from the Author:
To change up its flavor profile, try adding low-fat chicken sausage. This soup can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, and freezes well!