Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. Today’s post…is not what I wanted it to be. Which is fine, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”, as they say. And I’ve never been very good at laying plans. Laying down, sure. Laying pipe, I’m alright. Laying it on thick? A specialty. But plans aren’t so hot. Which is why we’re going to talk about Red Lentil Soup, a recipe I made a couple months ago and decided to save for a rainy day. Luckily, it actually started raining a couple hours ago, so it’s right on time. If you wanna skip the deets, just hop down to the recipe here. For everyone else, let’s learn why it never rains, but it pours. And also, a bit about lentils.
Passing on the One-Yard Line
Last week, I noted that I had made myself rather busy, and thus was forced to make all my recipes on Sunday evening to get them done on time. Well, this week, I took Thursday off due to the holiday, laid out my plan to make a simple recipe that I could easily fit into a pretty free schedule, and immediately crashed and burned against indifference, medical matters, and exhaustion.
See, all three of last week’s recipes were, for the most part, pantry-raiding recipes: other than the blue cornmeal, there wasn’t anything there that my house doesn’t have pretty much always on-hand in the pantry, fridge, or whatever.
Though I’ll agree my pantry is a little weirder than many.
My PLAN for this week’s recipe DID require some stuff that we didn’t have on-hand…and no one was willing to go get it. This is mostly because of my involvement in a local theatrical production: in a normal week, my mother and I would go shopping for groceries on Saturday, and grab what we needed. But for the past month, I’ve been running sound for a show that had a matinee and evening show on Saturdays. So I was unavailable, and my mother, having no one to go WITH her (my brother regards trips to the grocery store with much the same joy a dog or cat regards trips to the vet: a necessary but agonizing experience best avoided unless on death’s doorstep), simply didn’t go. Then, a series of early-morning and late-night issues on Friday utterly smacked the motivational drive out of me. (Between Midnight on the 4th and Midnight on the 6th, I slept for less time than I was working on shows.) So I crashed today, and didn’t get the stuff done. That’s on me. (what ISN’T on me is waking up on Monday to learn that also, I have to run an errand when I’m normally working, so this post is probably going up later than normal, so that’s a fun addition to the schedule) So let’s instead whip up something that might not fit a sweltering summer day, but is a neat little treat for when things get cooler.
So if you get your friend sick, and he gets you sick back, Is that just Lent-Illness?
Boo, title Jon. Boo. But, as that terrible pun implies, this is a lentil based dish. Which is something I theoretically connect to: as I may have mentioned before, I went to college at Washington State University, which, being in Eastern Washington, is right in the heart of American lentil production. Like, in the late 80’s, the Palouse region produced 98% of American Lentils. Since then, Montana and North Dakota have pushed the region out of the top spot, Still, roughly 20% of all US lentils grow in the region, which is why it’s the home of the National Lentil Festival. If you don’t know what a lentil IS, let’s cover that!
These are lentils. Now throw something on top of them, and we’ll call them covered.
Lentils are what’s called a “pulse” which is…ooh, boy. This is going to be a little messy. Alright, so you’ve got legumes. Legumes are the group that covers peas, beans, peanuts, soy beans, tamarind, and a bunch of other shit. They grow seeds (the actual peas, beans, etc) in pods that you can split down a seam. Easy enough, you’ve seen like, edamame or pea pods: there’s an outer pod, and beans/peas inside. That’s easy enough.
You can tell it was getting late and I was getting panicky because I book-ended the last sentence with “easy enough”, as if trying to convince myself that this wasn’t a hard concept to explain. These are peas. They’re in a pod. If I let them dry out before I harvested them, they’d be pulses (or bad, depending on which breed this is. I can’t identify peas by sight.)
Well, certain varieties of legumes are almost never harvested when green, but instead dry out, which allows them to be stored for long lengths of time before being rehydrated or ground into food. These are called “pulses”. The name comes from a similar thing with paste/pasta: “puls” in Latin meant “Beaten”, like “pulsus” meant “beating”. So ground up plants used for peasant gruels were “pulsed”, and later “puls”.
If that’s all kind of confusing, a good example for this is actually Chickpeas: you grow them, dry them, rehydrate them, and turn them into hummus. Or like, any chili or refried beans. Remember, ALL dried beans are pulses, so it’s the same kind of ideas. Split peas, for split pea soup are another type of pulse. The linguistic confusion comes from a bunch of different people using different words, and then having to rough out an explanation.
Culinarily, pulses are most commonly used in soups or stews, though fresh ones are also used in various salads. And Lentils are no exception. There are dozens of recipes for various kind of lentil soups, and the Lentil festival every year serves a giant cauldron of lentil chili.
This is actually a bowl of stewed lentils from India, but the idea is the same.
And THAT’S the culinary tradition we’re going to be working with today! A fairly simple red lentil soup with a chili oil garnish. So let’s get cooking!
Things Will Soon Take a Turn
What? No. Things go fine. I have no idea what Title Jon is talking about. Moving on, one of the advantages to using red lentils is due to complicated science mumbo-jumbo I’ve never bothered to look up, they break down (ie, soften) faster than other lentils. Some recipes for say, green lentils require an hour or more of soaking/simmering before getting them involved in the recipe proper. Red lentils, by contrast, tend to be a “toss it in and cook it for 20 minutes, and it’ll be fine.”
They also come in convenient zip-lock bags, so you don’t end up covering your floor in lentils!
So I hear.
And this recipe Is similarly pretty simple. It boils down to “sauté aromatics, add water and lentils, and simmer until done.” As with most aromatic recipes, you start with butter, onions, and garlic. Cook the onions until translucent, add the garlic, cook for a bit, and then we pump this sucker up with some RED. See, as you can see from the bag above, the lentils themselves, while NAMED Red, are really kind of a reddish-orange. And that’s going to get a lot softer when we add in the water and rice. To preclude that loss of color, we’re going to add some secret weapons to keep our color up.
Eastern Europe, using all the Gs and Zs the rest of Europe abandoned to die.
Yes, vividly red paprika, AND tomato paste are our weapons du jour. Mixed with a little cumin for flavor, bloomed in the onion-garlic aromatic spa, and we’re ready for our main components: lentils, rice, and water. Pour it all together, and you’ve got a nice little mix on your hands.
Looks a little like lava, which is fun.
Now, while that cooks, you’ll need to make some Aleppo Pepper oil. Aleppo pepper, as we discussed…shit, NEVER? Well, okay, we REFERENCED it a couple times, but we’ve never dug into it, because I have a recipe I keep forgetting to post when it’s seasonally appropriate. Screw it, we’re going now. Aleppo Pepper is a type of chile pepper that’s a little more citrusy than most, so it has a somewhat distinct flavor when ground. That’s it. It’s used here to give a little heat and complexity drizzled on top. To make the oil, all you do is take a small skillet, heat oil, and…break the handle of your pan?
I actually recommend you skip this part of the recipe. No need to follow EVERY step, you know?
Oh no, it’s the turn that Title Jon warned us about! Actually, in the moment, this was emotionally devastating. Readers with a firm memory might recall that they knew I made Red Lentil Soup, because I noted it back in the Grilled Cheese Hot-Dog post, where I overworked myself making three recipes at one time without help. So to suddenly have the handle snap off of a pan while doing that produced a full 2-minute mental collapse: I did the shocked, almost unresponsive blank stare at the broken handle, then gently wiggled it, while mumbling “what? I mean…what?” in slowly growing volume until I broke down into hysterical tittering.
After I patched my shattered psyche back together, I just grabbed another pan, and threw it on the stove. Heat up the oil, add the Aleppo, and let it sizzle for a bit until the bubbles drop off and the oil’s pretty red. And once it’s done, and the soup’s simmered, it’s ready to serve. We actually skimped on the recommended additional garnishes of mint and lemon wedges, because Nate has problems with mint, we were already drinking lemonade, and because, again, I was doing 3 things at one time and decided “chop mint and lemon could be pushed off the list with little real loss.
Those the loss of visual interest was a hard pill to swallow.
That may have been a little presumptuous. The soup was pretty solid, but it didn’t wow me. It was the tiniest bit gritty, implying that I didn’t cook it quite long enough, and I wished for a little more depth to the heat. I think if/when I try the recipe again, I’ll go for a different paprika and see if making it hot or smoked changes up the result to something I like it little more. Or maybe try using that Sichuan Chili Oil I made instead of the Aleppo oil…But, for how easy it is to throw together, it’s a welcome little addition that I think would be quite appealing on a cool fall or winter day, so I recommend you give it a try.
No plugs for our social media or patreon today, I’m running very late, and the links are mostly up at the top if you want them. I’ll talk to you all Thursday!
THURSDAY: I DON’T HAVE A PLAN. I COULD REVIEW A NEW COOKING SHOW, BUT I’D HAVE TO WATCH IT FIRST. I WAS GOING TO TALK ABOUT SOMETHING, BUT NOW I’VE GOT TO SWITCH IT AROUND. I’LL FIGURE IT OUT AND ANNOUNCE TUESDAY OR WEDNESDAY.
MONDAY: ASSUMING I CAN BULLY MY FAMILY INTO THE IDEA, WE’RE GOING BACK ACROSS THE PACIFIC, TO HONOR A HOLIDAY I LEARNED ABOUT TWO WEEKS AGO, AND WANT TO ROLL AROUND WITH IN THE DEEP.
And now it's time for the
Turkish Red Lentil Soup
3 tbsp salted butter (or oil, if you wish to make it vegan)
1 onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 minced or grated garlic clove
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tablespoon paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
1 cup red lentils
2 tbsp long-grain rice
5 cups water
Salt and Pepper
3 tbsps olive oil
2 tsps Aleppo Pepper flakes
Chopped mint, for garnish
Lemon wedges for serving
Melt butter over medium heat in a large saucepan or pot. Add the onion once the butter has stopped foaming, and sauté roughly 5 minutes, until softened and translucent. Add the garlic and cook roughly 30 seconds, just until fragrant. Add the tomato paste, paprika, and cumin, and cook for an additional minute, stirring to incorporate.
Add the rice, lentils and water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. While pot is simmering, heat olive oil for Aleppo oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the pepper flakes, and cook until bubbles die down, and oil is bright red, stirring gently occasionally. Remove from the heat, and set aside.
Once soup has simmered for 30 minutes and grains are broken down, season to taste with salt and a pinch of black pepper. Portion into bowls, then top with Aleppo oil and sprinkle with mint. Serve hot.