The inspiration here is pure East India. India glorifies dried peas and lentils like no other place on Earth, and Indian meals often include a souplike dish called dal. Cooks there marry lentils and spices in a unique way with a technique you'll find yourself using in other dishes.
Since legumes are notorious for smothering flavors, Indian cooks sauté the seasonings separately, adding them toward the end of the cooking time to create bright, true tastes.
Cook to Cook: If you use only one organic ingredient for this recipe, let it be the orange, since the peel is cooked into the dish.
1 small bunch (1-inch-diameter bouquet at stems) fresh coriander
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper
4 large garlic cloves, fine chopped
One 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and fine chopped
2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
Zest and juice of 1 medium orange
One 14-ounce can vegetable or chicken broth
2-1/2 cups water
3/4 cup red lentils, rinsed and sorted
Juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon
2/3 to 1 cup additional fresh orange juice
1. Wash and dry the bunch of coriander. Cut off the bottom 2 to 3 inches of the stems and chop them fine. Set them aside. Coarse-chop half of the remaining coriander leaves, refrigerating the rest for another dish.
2. Generously film the bottom of a 4-quart saucepan with olive oil and heat it over high heat. Stir in two-thirds of the onions, and season with salt and pepper. Saute until the onions begin to brown. Blend in the coriander stems, garlic, ginger, ground coriander seed, and the orange zest. Saute for about 20 seconds over high heat, or until fragrant. Scrape into a bowl and set aside.
3. Pour the broth, water, lentils, and remaining onions into the same saucepan. Bring to a gentle bubble, partially cover, and simmer for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the lentils are nearly tender. Add the sauteed seasonings and additional salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pot tightly and simmer for another 15 minutes to blend the flavors. (At this point the soup could be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen, and reheated.)
4. Just before serving, stir in the juice from half a lemon, the juice of the zested orange, and the additional orange juice to taste, starting with 2/3 cup. You will probably want almost the entire cup of additional orange juice, but trust your own taste. Then sample the soup for salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and adjust them as needed.
5. Scatter the coriander tops over the soup, and ladle it into deep bowls.
From The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift, Clarkson Potter, 2008.
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