I’ve made several lentil soups whose results I’ve documented (also here and here) on this blog. I hadn’t much success with urad dals (Buford Highway Farmer’s Market sells them as urid dals), a kind of black lentil, because they needed a substantially longer cooking time. Most recipes that use urad dals speak of soaking overnight and then cooking for 3 hours.  So, I decided to try again, and the results are worth reporting. As I’m inclined to improvise, we’ll talk about ingredients as we use them.

We started with a cup of urid dals purchased from Buford Highway Farmer’s Market. Those were soaked overnight and set to simmer in the morning with 6 cups of water. I usually start another pot simmering with nothing but water, so that I can add hot water if the dish requires it.

ud_simmer_1

After 2 hours I tasted the dals, which seemed soft and probably edible at that point. I added 1/2 cup of bulgur (I would have preferred pearled barley but couldn’t find any) and 2 bay leaves, some hot water and started prepping vegetables. I cut up a yellow bell pepper, 3 stalks of celery, some carrot, equivalent to 1-2 full sized carrots, 3/4 of a large yellow onion, and 1 jalapeno pepper, with seeds. These we sauteed in olive oil for 7 minutes (until the onions begin to turn transparent) and added to the pot (after 2 hours, 15 minutes). We let it simmer for 40 more minutes.

ud_veggies

ud_simmer_2

One characteristic of the Indian recipes is that they wait until the very end and then sautee aromatic spices, garlic, etc in ghee (clarified butter) and add that to the soup. In the same spirit we prepped 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and deveined, 2 large cloves of garlic, thin sliced, 3 decent sized shallots, and a handful of destalked fresh spinach. These we sauteed in olive oil until the spinach was limp and dark green and the shallots were turning transparent (ca 3 minutes), and we added that to the soup, and let it cook 5 more minutes.

ud_sautee

ud_final

The soup that resulted is vegan, creamy, rich, and full of flavor. All I added was some salt substitute before I served it. Others may choose to add spices of their choice.

ud_in_bowl

I’m not 100% sure whether the soup grew so rich because of the dals themselves, or because the bulgur acted as a thickening agent. In many of these soups, (great examples are here, here, and here) potatoes can be added to give it a vegetable component, and that will thicken the stock over time.

In the Indian section of the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market, they’re called urid dals, though online most sources call them urad dals. I have been fascinated by them since sources say they have an earthy flavor, and one thing I’m trying to do with my various incarnations of lentil soup is have a tasty product that isn’t mush. But the one thing I didn’t get before cooking this batch was a good cooking time, and I cooked them about 30-45 minutes. The product is a little chewy this time, as opposed to mushy. The soup is still not perfect.

There are some good looking recipes for urad dals out there, such as this really tasty looking dal mahkani. There are interesting lentil recipes as well, such as this one from the blogger Food and Spice for a spicy green lentil and split pea dish. But I wasn’t really finding recipes that told me how long to cook urad dals. Then I switched search tactics and found this Carnegie Mellon site pretty quickly. Sanjiv Singh’s recipe for curried black lentil soup has the dals cooking for two hours. Whoooops.

Other good looking recipes include this one, from 101 Cookbooks.  The site beanslentils.com has a nice spicy urad dal dish. And off-topic but way cool:  Aarkfood’s ten essentials for the Indian kitchen.

The day started out mostly as an idle web search. I searched on the phrase ‘heirloom beans’ and found this book (now on order).  In the process of poking around links related to that book, I ran into a discussion of beluga lentils. And after finding this very enjoyable article discussing ways to cook lentils, I just had to stop by the closest Whole Foods and see what they had. And yes, Whole Foods is very much out of the way and not a typical place for me to shop, but when looking for exotic goods, you go where you have to.

After I was there, I took stock of the grains available there. A store clerk told me there were no beluga lentils.  But there was amaranth, at least six different brands of quinoa – quinoa pasta even. For the first time since I’ve been looking in Atlanta, I found farro:

Inexpensive quinoa and farro can be found at Whole Foods.

Inexpensive quinoa and farro can be found at Whole Foods.

Afterwards I bought odds and ends for my wife and left.  Trader Joe’s is on the way home, I needed something to eat and I like shopping Trader Joe’s.  I was kind of wanting their baklava collection, and of course, once I was there, I couldn’t find it. I did find beluga lentils. They were cooked, so I wasn’t interested (I want dried legumes). I found some nice baby broccoli, and there was a well priced cut of steak (under $5). On the way out, the clerk found the baklava for me. I had just walked past it.

A price comparison: 1 lb box of Trader Joe’s quinoa is 3.99. The 1 pound bag of ’365′ brand Whole Foods quinoa was $2.99.

Third stop was Publix, to check out what N. K. Hurst products they had, get a feel for prices, etc.  N. K. Hurst is an American company located in Indianapolis that sells bean based soups. They have recently started a blog, which posts recipes of their products (and potential products). It is currently undervisited, and if you like the “HamBeens” line of soups, drop by their site and give them a try.

Hurst has a 15 bean soup, which has not gone unnoticed in the blogosphere.  They sell other soups as well – lentil and split pea based, northern bean based, etc. In comparison to the store brands (when they existed — the 15 bean soup was unique at my Publix), the Hurst products were priced anywhere from 50 cents to 80 cents more. The value added is in the recipes on the back, and a spice pack included in the product itself. It’s just my feeling mind you, but if the package had the url of the new blog on it, it might do their customers even more good. The blog has pictures of the things that can be done with Hurst beans, more so than just boiling them and tossing in the flavor packet.

Take home? It’s nice to see an established brick and mortar American company try new and innovative ways to reach their customers. Kudos to N. K. Hurst.

In terms of availability, I wish their combination lentil product were for sale at Publix. I didn’t see it there.

Back to food. Dinner was going to be pan seared steak, along with snow peas and some version of the baby broccoli. I wanted a fast, simple way to prepare the broccoli and I found this recipe.  In My Box’s use of just half a cup of water to ‘steam’ the broccoli, combined with ~ 6 cloves of garlic and 2 tsp soy, looked really good. I tried it. I only had 3 cloves of garlic and I guessed on the amount of soy sauce but it still came out nicely. Once done, my daughter insisted on having some.

I finally got my hands on red lentils today, and the first thing I did was whip up a batch of my ever mutating lentil soup recipe. I decided I’d add bulgur into this one as well, but not a lot of it (ca 2 oz). And I increased the proportion of garam masala, coriander and cumin by 50%. Got the soup going, waited a bit, tossed in the quinoa and bulgur, added spices, added water, let it get to a simmer again and took stock of what I made.

Good looking and tasting soup, but the lentils have fallen apart.

Good looking and tasting soup, but the lentils have fallen apart.

It’s a good tasting soup, but the red lentils, purchased split, are dissolved into the broth, and because of my liberal use of Indian style spices, even the color of the soup has reverted back to a greenish hue. It tastes really good, but I do like actually seeing my lentils after I’m done.

On a totally different front, found two new food links that I really like. The first is a recipe where lentil soup is topped with cilantro, and the second is a red quinoa-white quinoa pilaf. Both look really delicious.

I ran into lentils in college, when one day I was starving and found this can of Progresso Lentil Soup. I really liked it, and when I got the bug to start cooking again, I spent a few moments on the internet and uncovered this recipe for lentil soup of Alton Brown’s.

The recipe really looks good, but it requires a bit more work than I’d like. I really don’t want to be toasting cumin seeds when I’ve never owned a cumin seed before, and the spice grains of paradise was also a bit confusing. I also wasn’t too keen on blending the soup, as I like my lentils intact.

The eye opener came a bit later, when I ran into Mark Bittman’s recipe for Improvised Vegetable Soup. He called it a soupy dal, and it was fairly easy to see in comparison to Alton’s recipe that this was an archetype of a way to make a wide variety of soups, as opposed to a single soup. The scaffolding of this kind of food preparation is straightforward. You let the onions, carrots, and celery (plus whatever else you add) make the stock for you and then use the “main contents” to add food value, mouth feel, and then spice to taste.

I’ve tried a number of variants of this dish, but before I proceed with what I did I want to show a few more examples of this class of soups, prepared in interesting ways. The first is this mung bean soup recipe, in which the base vegetables and mung beans are cooked separately and then added together later. The second is a Luccan farro soup, both in the original incarnation and in Cooking 4 the Week’s variation. Finally, there is a fine Indian dish called a dal makhani, or “buttery lentils”, which is much richer than these soups, but can tell anyone something about Indian style spicing.

The latest version of a Bittman-esque soup ended up like this:

1 cup (8 oz) lentils, soaked while cutting veggies.
1/2 cup (4 oz) pearled barley, in 2 cups water, heated almost to simmer while cutting vegetables.
2/3 cup quinoa (eyeballed measure), washed 5x, then soaked while cutting..

1.5 carrots, chopped.
3 celery stalks chopped.
1 onion chopped.
4 mini pimentos (red, yellow, orange) chopped, seeded and deveined.
2 serrano peppers, chopped, seeded and deveined.
3 cloves of garlic, pressed.

chopped vegetables and garlic were sauteed in oil (2 tbsp, olive +something), 7 minutes. Added barley and then lentils, added an inch of water above, and allowed the soup to simmer. Heated an additional  quart of water while cooking food, added water when necessary (2-3x). I added the quinoa when judged about 15 minutes left to cook. Total cooking time was roughly 40-45 minutes.

The soup was spiced just before turning off heat.

spicing was..

50-50 salt and salt substitute to taste.
1 teaspoon garam masala (found at Publix).
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
~ 1/2 teaspoon jamaican curry powder (more for the yellow of the
turmeric than anything else)..
paprika, red pepper, parsley flakes, marjoram, freshly ground black
pepper, eyeballed.
habanero/mango sauce, maybe 1/4 cap full.

A serving of lentil soup with barley and quinoa.

A serving of lentil soup with barley and quinoa.

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