Creamy and easy lentil soup flavored with spices inspired by the Indian Dal Makhani.
I learnt the fundamentals of Indian cooking from my mother. But it was from my father that I learnt to relish a plate of food. Though a small eater, even today he is so particular about the way food is seasoned and served. He has remained staunchly true to his heritage when it comes to choosing what he wants to eat. On weekdays our meals were simple home cooked mostly vegetarian curries, dal (lentils) and flatbreads. On weekends the lunches were late and elaborate and nothing short of an 10 course meal. Vegetables stir-fries, lentils, meat and seafood curries, chutneys and sweets. Dal was a constant, like it is in most Indian households. It was there every single day. Yet nobody complained as there were varieties of lentils to choose from. However, they had to be seasoned perfectly and compulsory garnished with fresh sprigs of coriander. If it wasn’t Dad would make sure he did it himself. After all these years it wasn’t surprising for me to see my Dad quietly delighting in a bowl of Dal and rice at our home in Sydney, while the rest of us lapped up garlic seafood risotto.
Dal Makhani is one of those lentil dishes that were made on special occasions at home. It’s silky creamy taste, melt-in-your mouth texture and the aromatic presence of garam masala makes it a delicacy but it is rich, not something you could eat everyday. Traditionally this is made with whole black lentils and kidney beans that are soaked overnight and cooked down the next day with spices and cream. My version is simpler with fewer ingredients and slightly thinned down to fit into a soup profile. The taste would differ a bit from the original as there are fewer spices in the recipe but nevertheless it tastes delicious. This is particularly keeping in mind that a non -Indian kitchen may not be having all the authentic spices in the pantry. I make this soup version at home for my little ones who are yet to get accustomed to a substantial amount of spice. And soup goes down better with children than calling it lentils. Overall, this is a dinner that is ready under 30 minutes and is loved at home.
I use canned lentils which are pre-cooked and makes the process a whole lot simpler and quicker. If you are making this and want to serve it like the Dal Makhani, follow the exact recipe but skip the last step of blending the lentils. I like to serve this with homemade naan bread but any kind of crusty bread will do. Garam Masala is available in most supermarkets and Indian stores. If you like heat, add a few finely chopped chillies before serving.
Dal Makhani (Creamy Lentil) Soup
1tbsp olive oil
1 bay leaf
2 pods of cardamom
1 stick cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp. grated ginger
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup, diced canned tomatoes
1 can (420g) brown lentils (do not drain)
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 cup pouring cream
1/2 cup vegetable stock or water (depending on desired thickness of soup)
1/2 tsp brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
handful coriander, to serve
In a frying pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil, add the bay leaf, cardamom and cinnamon and fry for a few seconds till aromatic. Add the onion and cook till transluscent. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for a minute. Add the tomatoes and lentils and simmer until cooked, stirring occasionally (about 15 minutes). Add the garam masala, cream, vegetable stock (if using), seasoning, sugar and stir to mix. Remove from heat. Remove the bay leaf, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick and blend with a stick blender. Ladle into bowls, garnish with coriander.