I am realizing that my taste in food blogs (as with my food interests) tends towards the more homey and rustic and less towards sophisticated gourmet. A case in point is Tinned Tomatoes, which has great recipes and just a bit of a homey touch. Also, its author Jacqueline posts nearly every day and she’s part of the team that produces “No Croutons Required,” a monthly soup recipe contest.
This month’s challenge was to make a soup using only what you already had in the house, pantry or garden, a wonderful challenge that definitely fits with my current need to conserve cash and cook off my pantry. So I turned to an old standby that is anything but stodgy, Bengali Masar Dal Soup.
Actually, this is really a Dal recipe, dal being the standard term for Indian lentil dishes that have infinite variations. When I was the Deli Manager at Just Food Co-op in Minnesota, I needed to expand our repertoire of vegan soups for the deli and that was when I first made this dal as a soup.
While I don’t remember where I got this recipe I’m sure I picked it up the year I was first introduced to Indian cooking my second year of grad school at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. At that time Tech specifically recruited international students for its graduate programs and India was well represented in the various schools. One of the first friends I made there (and still a dear friend) is from New Delhi and he introduced me to home cooked Indian food. What a revelation! That was more than 15 years ago and I still love eating and cooking it!
Similar to Chinese or Thai cooking at home, the key to successful Indian cooking is having the appropriate ingredients. Happily, it is spices that render Indian dishes authentic, and once you have a store of them, you can cook without fear. Fenugreek is the only spice in this recipe that was unknown to me until I decided to make this dish. I couldn’t describe the flavor but I know without it, this dish is lacking something.
Bengali Masar Dal Soup
1 cup red lentils
4 cups water
2 hot fresh green chilies (I used Thai ones from my garden)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon grated ginger (piece about the size of a thumb)
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon panch phoron*
4 bay leaves
3 dry red chilies
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
Place lentils, green chilies, turmeric, water and salt in a large sauce pan and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes until lentils are tender. Meanwhile, saute onion in oil until translucent. Add chopped tomatoes and ginger and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes until it forms a paste and looks like this:
Add the paste to the lentils and allow lentil mix to continue cooking on low heat. In separate pan (I use my cast iron one) dry roast the panch phoron, red chilies and bay leaves until the black mustard seeds begin to pop. Shake the pan as it begins to toast the mix so that the items don’t burn. Remove from heat and add the tablespoon of garlic and let it sizzle and mix in with the seed mix. Add to the lentil soup and stir in well.
The flavors will definitely improve overnight, but you may want to remove the green chilies since they continue to impart spicy heat to the soup day after day.
* Panch phoron is a spice mix of equal parts cumin seed, fennel seed, black mustard seed, and fenugreek. Technically it also includes Black Onion seeds, but I have never had them nor included them, so my panch phoron does not!