Diana Henry's Roasted Tomato, Fennel and Chickpea Salad
Rachel Roddy's Squash and Rice Soup

Nigel Slater's Spiced Red Lentil Soup

You may already be in the process of cooking your lentil soup for New Year's Day, but in case you haven't decided on one yet, may I be so bold as to suggest this one? It comes from Nigel Slater's wonderful book, The Christmas Chronicles, the only Christmas-themed book I've ever owned. Reading it in the quiet, stolen moments of December is swiftly becoming a tradition and it is as interesting (did you know that old-fashioned lametta is still made of silver plate in Tyrol?) as it is inspiring (daydreaming about a life in which you can spend each winter in Japan is not a terrible way to get through a pandemic). It makes more sense to read it in November, so you can prepare for all the wonderful things you'll do once Christmas rolls around, but this year I read it in the sleepy week between Christmas and New Year and it was also very nice to think about next year's Christmas, when things will hopefully look quite different.

Nigel says that the soup is styled, flavor-wise, after Indian rasam, which I've only ever seen as the thin, fiery broth that comes served with dosa or uttapam in South Indian restaurants. But this soup is thicker and more nourishing and stands alone very well on its own, no lacy thin fermented rice pancake alongside required. We made the quantity indicated in the book, but could have easily doubled it because it's the kind of soup that will have everyone wanting seconds (even our picky Bruno asked for more) and leftovers of it will be more than welcome. So use the recipe below if you want only a starter portion for four people and double it if it's your only dish. (The original has you make a spice paste, grinding whole spices and hauling out the food processor for ginger and garlic. I went the lazy route and streamlined things with no great detriment to the results. And I tripled the amount of tamarind concentrate, because I love its plummy, sour flavor.)

It feels so good to write here again. There were long stretches of time this past year where I basically came around to accepting the idea of this blog going dark once and for all. But it always felt weird and wrong. I miss writing here so much, having this space to play in. After feeling so trapped and stuck, both figuratively and literally, over the past 10 months, knowing that I can come here and feel free is very, very nice. I don't make New Year's resolutions anymore and haven't in years. But I very much believe in starting the year as you mean it to continue.

So see you again soon, I hope. And Happy New Year!

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Spiced Red Lentil Soup                                                          
Serves 4
Print the recipe!

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
2 cloves garlic
A thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled
3/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 14-ounce/400 gram can peeled tomatoes
175 grams red lentils
2-3 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
Fresh cilantro, stemmed and washed

1. Put the olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds and cook, stirring, until they start to become fragrant.

2. Press the garlic through a garlic press and add to the pot, then grate in the fresh ginger. Cook, stirring, for another minute, then add the salt, pepper, cayenne, the tomatoes and 2 tablespoons of tamarind concentrate. Stir to combine, cook for just a minute, then add the lentils and stir. Fill the tomato can with water twice, and add to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the flame, cover the pot and simmer until the lentils are soft, about 20 minutes.

3. Puree half the soup with a hand-held blender. Taste and add the remaining tamarind, if desired, and season with more salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with cilantro leaves.