red lentil soup with garam masala

I have to give credit where it’s due – this soup would not have been possible if it weren’t for KS who kindly and willingly entertains my flights of fancy in the kitchen. If, while I’m eating breakfast at my desk at work, I email him to, oh, soak the lentils for an hour prior to me coming home and making dinner because I think this garam masala spiced lentil soup sounds swell, he emails back agreeably and ha! because victory is mine, and time, dear time, since there’s so not enough of you in the day, I’ve just tricked you if only a little bit and saved myself and KS an hour before we can commence dinner. If that’s not pure genius on my part, I don’t know what is.

I’ve already confessed to you that I’m a total sissy when it comes to morning darkness, but also like to clean few pots and pans in the kitchen on weeknight. The cooking thing too, you know, I do love it, but sometimes it separates me from my meal and while I feel all European and chic dining at 10 pm, I think my body prefers and earlier time (I think my body likes me to be square and eat at 7pm – body, if you’re reading this, 7pm dinners are not happening on weeknights. Ever. Unless I quit work.)

So daylight savings are here, (yay), which means, when I leave work it’ll be pitch black, but when I wake up, hopefully, there’ll be a smidgeon of light in the sky. And yes, while gym in the morning sounds like medieval form of torture (and until I am actually inside the gym working out seems to be), it does make me better focused, happier, more productive during the day. Not productive enough not to go in to work on a Sunday mind you, but it is, after all, November.

But, back to cooking and soup. November has arrived here without any forewarning and brought with it some cold and winds. I’m okay with the cold, I’ve got my new stylin’ warm coat and all, but the winds, the winds, people. I assure you that whatever winds you think you’re feeling, come to Tribeca and walk on Greenwich Street for a few blocks and you will know what I mean. It’s beyond a wind tunnel, it’s like a wind warp. No matter how warm a coat you have on, it will piece you through to the bone.

Which is where this soup arrives. A hot bowl of this, and you will feel warm all over again. It has a myriad of spices, and while you can certainly make it hot-spicy, you can just leave it at spicy, as in flavorful. We needed that extra kick so I gave it a little sambar powder and KS of course added hot sauce to his bowl. Oh and I loved putting together my own spice blend – it made me so happy!

And aside from being a 30 minute dinner dish (without the soaking of the lentils part) and a one pot meal to boot, it tasted like a good, authentic, Indian soup. It was really good, incredibly good in fact – and had more developed flavor the following day. To make it even better, we served it with a toasted piece of rye-raisin bread. The spices in the bread with the sweetness of the raisin were a perfect compliment to the soup flavors and the bread helped to temper some of the spice. Will I be making it again this season – this simple, quick, flavorful, warm, delicious, low-maintenance, nearly-no-clean-up soup? You bet.

Red Lentil Soup with Garam Masala
Gourmet, February 1997

Makes about 12 cups, serving 6 as a main course.

2 1/2 cups dried red lentils (about 1 pound), picked over
2 medium onions, chopped fine
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
6 cups water
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

In a bowl soak lentils in water to cover by 2 inches 1 hour and drain in a fine sieve.

In a 4-quart heavy saucepan cook onions in oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden. Stir in salt and spices and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in lentils, water, and broth and simmer until lentils fall apart, about 25 minutes. (Old lentils may take longer to cook.) Let soup cool slightly (or look at my note below and proceed accordingly).

Gourmet instruction:
Transfer soup to a blender in batches and purée (use caution when blending hot liquids), transferring to a bowl. In pan heat soup over moderate heat, stirring, until hot and season with salt of necessary.

Gourmet Note: Garam means “hot” and masala means “spiced,” though the mixture is not chili-hot. Instead the classic garam masala spices called for in the recipe-cardamom, cloves, black pepper, cumin, and cinnamon-are warmly aromatic.

Radish note:
Scrap the transfer and puréeing in batches – just use an immersion blender until your desired results are achieved. You see how I look out for your “fewer dishes to clean” interests? And save you time? Exactly, but for some reason Gourmet Magazine wants you to delay your dinner. Still, they did provide us with a fantastic recipe, so I should give them some credit.


  • Lydia

    By mixing your own garam masala you can have it more or less hot and spicy, and because I’m a girl who likes hot food, I’d bump that up a bit. But this does look like a welcoming recipe for a cold weekday evening, and I’ll give it a try.

  • ann

    I hear you radish, I am so happy daylight savings has ended. Going to the gym in the dark in the morning is simply wrong. I can’t believe you have the fortitude to cook after a day at work. By the time I get home I’m a whimpering mess that needs comforting and food handed to her post haste! I guess I’m the whimp :-)
    And I’ve felt that wind on Greenwich Street, and it’s bad, you’re right, I’d say just about equal to the freigh train wind that comes off the harbor and up the ridge in Bay Ridge and blasts me in the face as I turn onto my street. I think today’s the day I break out the heavy coat :-)

  • Rulanti

    If I added right, you are using 7-7/8 teaspoons of spices. I have lots of premixed garam masala that I would like to use before it loses its punch. Would I use 7-7/8 teaspoons of it to make this soup?

  • olga

    Rulanti – great math work :) to make it easier on you 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon. I’d say 2 T should be fine — and see how it tastes. Add more if needed.

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