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I read a lot of recipes, some in cookbooks, others in magazines and newspapers, some online and some written lovingly on cards, now yellowed and stained by time and use.
For me, there’s a particular pleasure in reading a recipe and imagining how it will taste. I don’t know how I do it, though. I must start with the ingredients. How much of what, how each is prepared and combined surely add up to how the dish will taste. But how, exactly, do I taste what I read? And how accurate are the taste buds in my mind?
I know pretty quickly whether I’m interested in trying a recipe. If it’s too obvious, I usually pass. Chocolate, caramel, sugar, deep-fried, slathered in butter, it’s just too easy. Of course, it’s going to be delicious. Next.
If the ingredients are too exotic, I move on. Hand-picked, baby enoki mushrooms that have been dried in the sun then pulverized to a powder that is then roasted by the heat of a cherry-wood fire tended by monks? No. Turning the page now.
I also tend to skip recipes that just dump things out of jars, boxes or cans. There are some exceptions, but that’s for another day.
Occasionally, I prepare a recipe then wonder why I bothered. These days, my greatest disappointment comes from a lack of flavor. My aging taste buds need more entertaining than they used to.
Even more rare though, is when I make a recipe and it surprises me because it’s so much better than I had expected. Such is the case with Coconut Red Lentil Soup.
My friend Jenna raved about this recipe, and when I saw the ingredients, I thought it sounded good, but I wondered why she was going on so. She is considerably younger than me, I thought. Perhaps her taste buds are still easily pleased. But she had recommended other recipes and her track record was good.
I love coconut milk. I was intrigued by the golden raisins. I was worried that the soup’s base was water, not stock, but I noted the ginger and curry, so I decided to give it a try.
And I was amazed.
This soup is so good. It’s spicy and filling, and its wonderful creamy texture is punctuated delightfully by the raisins. It is so delicious served over brown rice that I’ve never eaten it any other way. Jenna found the recipe on the food blog, 101cookbooks.com, written by Heidi Swanson, who focuses on natural, whole foods and ingredients. I’m giving you her recipe here, noting the modifications that I make.
So quick, before spring disappears into summer, try this soup. Even if your mental taste buds think you’re crazy, you’re real taste buds will be so happy.
Coconut Red Lentil Soup
1 cup yellow split peas
1 cup red split lentils
7 cups water
1 medium carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons fresh peeled and minced ginger
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons butter or ghee (I use butter)
8 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt (I use kosher salt)
One small handful cilantro, chopped (I skip this because I’m not a cilantro fan)
Cooked brown rice or farro, optional (Not optional for me. I use brown rice cooked in chicken stock.)
Rinse the split peas and lentils until the rinse water isn’t murky. Put them in a soup pot, cover with the 7 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Add carrot and about a quarter of the minced ginger. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the split peas are soft. (Taste a bunch of the peas before deciding whether they’re done. Some cook more quickly than others.)
Meanwhile, pour the curry powder into a small skillet and turn the heat to low. Toast the curry, stirring and tossing frequently, until it becomes fragrant. Be careful. You don’t want to burn it.
Melt the butter in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add half of the green onions (I add them all), the remaining ginger, and the raisins. Sauté for two minutes stirring constantly, then add the tomato paste and sauté for another minute or two.
Add the toasted curry powder to the tomato paste mixture and stir to combine. When the peas are done, add the curry mix to the simmering soup. Also add the coconut milk and the salt. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or so. The soup will thicken quite a bit in this last simmer. You can add more water if you’d like, but I like it thick.
Put a scoop of steamy brown rice in your bowl. Ladle on the soup (here’s where you’d garnish with cilantro and remaining green onions) and enjoy.
Jill Blanchette is the night editor at The Day. Her column appears in The Times every other week. If you have any comments or recipes to share, send them to Jill at email@example.com.