Melissa Clark's Curried Coconut Tomato Soup

Melissa Clark's tomato coconut soup

A nice little recipe to have in your back pocket for those days when dinner needs to be cozy and comforting, but also quick. It comes from Melissa Clark's Cook This Now, which is not just a great collection of recipes that manage to be both (mostly) simple and yet also sophisticated, exactly like her NYT column, but also makes me nostalgic for the good old days of cookbooks, when they were printed with regular fonts on normal paper, with a few glossy pages of photos gathered together in bunches. The Internetization of cookbooks has tired me out a little. Look at me, out on my lawn with a broom.

The soup, made with canned tomatoes and an array of warm spices, is made creamy with coconut milk instead of cream, so it's good for the vegans or lactose-intolerants in your life (use coconut oil instead of butter to begin with if it's a dietary necessity). We are neither vegan nor lactose-intolerant, but found this soup almost compulsively good. The balance of flavors was so perfect that it was hard not to go back for thirds. ("We", that night, was me and Hugo, so it is child-friendly - just leave out the chile powder if necessary or use a not-too-spicy curry powder). Sometimes cumin can get a bit much, you know? But here, smoothed out by the coconut, and balanced by the coriander and curry powder (I use this one, which is excellent), it was just right.

Tomato coconut soup

I was feeling ambitious the night I cooked the soup, so I also made Melissa's suggested accompaniment of whole wheat parathas, but they were a little fussy. Next time, I'd make grilled cheese, as I usually do with tomato soup, and call it a day.

Oh and next time, I'd also do what Melissa suggests as an alternative topping to the chopped herbs (missing from our plates because as soon as the soup was ready I suddenly got very hungry and needed to sit down and eat rather than chop anything else) and toast some coconut chips, mix them with sea salt and drop them on top of the soup for a crunchy contrast. You should definitely try that.

NB: This is not a thick tomato soup; it's meant to be thin, but not watery. The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup coconut cream, which I left out when I made it. You can add that if you'd like, for a richer soup, or you can add less water (3 cups instead of 4) if you prefer.

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Melissa Clark's Curried Coconut Tomato Soup
Adapted from Cook This Now
Serves 2 to 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or coconut oil
1 yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch chile powder
1 large can (28-oz) diced tomatoes
1 regular can (13.5 oz) coconut milk
1/2 cup coconut cream, optional
Chopped fresh cilantro, mint or basil, for garnish

1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is very tender, about 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the curry powder, coriander, cumin and chile. Cook for 1 minute. Stir in the diced tomatoes and 4 cups of water (3 cups, for a slightly thicker soup) and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes.

3. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. Whisk in the coconut milk (and coconut cream, if using) and check for seasoning. Let the soup simmer for another 10 minutes. Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped herbs.



Heidi Swanson's Harira


So as not to bore you to tears, I will summarize my current mood with regards to technology as such: CROTCHETY ANGRY OLD LADY WITH COKE BOTTLE GLASSES SHAKING HER FIST AT THE RAINBOW SPINNING WHEEL OF DEATH WHILE CLUTCHING A WALKER WITH WIZENED KNUCKLES, the spinning wheel of death being a stand-in for several other things, in addition to the actual spinning wheel.

But! One does not want to dwell. One wants to remain positive in the face of adversity (although, really, Apple software updates, you are flirting dangerously with my blood pressure, you nasty little jerks). So I'd like to focus on someone who has always managed to make forward movement in work and technology seem effortless, Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks. She was at the forefront of food blogging over a decade ago, of course, but her ongoing productivity and creativity as the field gets ever noisier and more crowded is awesome to behold.

Her latest cookbook, Near & Far, is an idiosyncratic collection of recipes that she assembled and developed on her travels throughout Japan, Morocco, Italy, France and India, with a lovely little chapter dedicated to food she makes for the actual traveling part, too (including savory chive dumplings and strongly flavored gingersnap cookies, against travel sickness - brilliant!). Settling in with Near & Far on the couch has been the most soothing time I've spent with myself lately, with those soft, smooth pages, the quietly luscious photography, and Heidi's calm, capable tone.

Heidi slips millet into madeleines, makes granola with nori and cashews and shichimi togarashi and bakes oatmeal with plums and kefir, but she also has a knack for simple soups that steal the show, like this vegetarian Moroccan harira, blazing with spices, nubby with lentils and chickpeas, and rib-sticking in the very best way. When I made the soup, it filled my biggest soup pot to the very top. After feeding a bunch of my girlfriends for dinner, I figured I'd have leftovers for lunch the next day. I had left out the angel hair noodles broken in at the end, and the dates, which I didn't have, and so I served it with slices of bread for wiping our plates. By the end of the evening, there was nothing left but a bare scraping of soup at the bottom of the pot.

I left out the cilantro, because I didn't have any, and the marjoram/oregano and celery leaves, because I forgot, but I'd urge you to make sure to include all of those, if only because these kinds of bright pops of additional flavor are part of what Heidi does so well.

And now I'm off to plump up my pantry with some of Heidi's brilliant inventions, like hazelnut spice (a blend of orange zest, salt, toasted hazelnuts, sugar, cinnamon and poppy seeds), and the aforementioned nori granola. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

Heidi Swanson's Harira
Adapted from Near & Far

1 bunch cilantro
Extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 medium onions, diced
3 celery stalks, diced, leaves reserved
6 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
Pinch of saffron (about 30 threads)
2 1/2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 cups | 10 oz | 280 g cooked chickpeas
1 1/2 cups | 9 oz | 255 g dried lentils, picked over and rinsed
6 cups | 1.5 L water
4 to 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Scant 1/4 cup | 50 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 (28-oz | 795g) can whole tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram or oregano
3 oz | 55 g angel hair pasta, broken into 1-inch | 2.5cm pieces
Chopped fresh dates, to serve

1. Chop the cilantro stems finely and set aside in a pile. Chop the leaves and reserve separately. Heat several spoonfuls of the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, crushed garlic, ginger, and cilantro stems, stir to coat, and cook until everything softens a bit, 5 minutes or so. Grind the saffron with the salt into a powder with a mortar and pestle and add to the pot along with the cinnamon, sweet paprika, red pepper flakes, and cumin. Stir well before adding the chickpeas and lentils. Stir in 4 cups (1 liter) of the water and bring to a simmer.

2. In a separate large bowl, gradually whisk the remaining 2 cups (500 ml) of water into the flour, a splash at a time to avoid lumps. Add the lemon juice, tomatoes with their juice, and most of the remaining cilantro. Stir well, breaking up the tomatoes somewhat. Add this mixture to the soup and bring to a simmer, stirring often. Once at a simmer, cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are cooked through. When you have about 5 minutes left, stir in the marjoram and pasta. Once the pasta is cooked, adjust the seasoning and serve topped with dates, the remaining cilantro, and the reserved celery leaves. Drizzle each portion with some more olive oil and serve.

Amelia Morris' Corn, Chile and Potato Soup

Potato, chile and corn soup
Without further ado, my favorite soup discovery of 2014! Potato soup spiked with chipotle chiles, some corn and lime juice, then topped - at serving time - with shredded cheese, crushed tortilla chips and lime-juice-slicked avocado cubes.

Yup. But you know what? It's even better than it sounds. It's a freaking symphony of flavors and textures - hot, sour, spicy, spiky, soft and crunchy - all in one delicious bowl.

I found the recipe in Amelia's just-published memoir, which I first received as a galley last year. It too is, in turns, soft and spiky, funny and bittersweet. With wit and honesty, Amelia takes a magnifying glass to her own coming-of-age story as a Pittsburgh transplant in Los Angeles, trying to find her way as a home cook and a wife and writer, but mostly just as a person.

And this soup is a perfect distillation of that coming-of-age narrative. The base is a very simple potato soup - olive oil, chopped onion, chicken broth, cubed potatoes. But then as the soup gets going, you start adding in some, well, let's call them complicators. Chipotle chiles in adobo (one if you want just a little heat; two if you're nuts). Lime juice, sharp and floral. Nubby bits of corn.

When the soup is done and you sit down to eat, you're a kid again, crushing chips with your hands, squeezing more lime, sprinkling in avocado and shredded cheese to soothe your fiery mouth (we do two chipotles, because we are nuts). The heat makes this a grown-up soup for sure, but it's definitely the most fun grown-up soup I've ever known.

Amelia Morris' Corn, Chile and Potato Soup
From Bon Appétempt
Serves 3 to 4

2 pounds potatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chicken broth
½ cup water
1 to 2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo
2 avocados
1 to 2 limes
1 (16-ounce) package frozen corn (not thawed) or 1 large can (between 340-450 grams) of corn
Tortilla chips
Grated cheddar cheese

1. Rinse, scrub, and peel the potatoes. Chop them into 1- to 2-inch pieces. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and give it a few pinches of salt and a bit of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, 4 to 5 minutes.

3. Add the potatoes, chicken broth, water, and 1 teaspoon salt to the pot. Raise the heat to high to bring to a boil. Mince the chile using a fork to hold it steady as you chop. Add the minced chile to the pot. Once the soup is boiling, take it down to a simmer; simmer until the potatoes are very tender, 15 to 17 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, dice the avocados and place in a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and the juice of half a lime. Set aside.

5. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes right in the soup—just until coarsely broken up. Add the frozen or canned corn and simmer for about 2 minutes more, until heated through. Turn off the heat. Add the juice of the other half of the lime.

6. Ladle into bowls and top with a nice heap of tortilla chips, avocado cubes, and shredded cheddar. Serve with wedges of the remaining lime.

Cold Summer Borscht

Fresh beets

It all started when the one local vendor at my Tuesday greenmarket had the most beautiful bunches of beets with vibrant, glossy, fresh greens (more on those later) last week. The minute I saw them, I felt a primal urge to make borscht. You know, the kind with beef shin or oxtail: hearty and warm, with little golden discs of fat floating on the surface. Definitely not the kind of meal you'd make on a warm summer's day, which it actually, surprisingly, happened to be. (Context break: With an exception or two, like my day of beets, our Berlin summer has been nothing but rainy and chilly and windy and gray. Here's something I never thought I'd say: I miss those hot and stinky New York City streets in summer something awful right now! My kingdom for a un-airconditioned subway car! For humidity! For sustained SUN! Anyway. Moving on.)

So borscht with beef was out. And then I started thinking about cold summer borschts, the ones you eat with boiled potatoes and buttermilk. I first learned about cold borscht when I was going through my Holocaust phase as a kid. Yes, there was a period in my childhood when all I read were books about the Holocaust. I can't have been alone? I was completely and utterly obsessed. (I even had nightmares about it, really vivid and terrifying ones that I have still not forgotten.) I feel more than slightly weird confessing a food craving that is in any way even peripherally related to the Holocaust, but sometimes the mind works in strange ways. That nourishing soup - a gesture of kindness in one of many bleak moments in that grim parade of stories - made an impression on me in the midst of all that horror, I suppose.

Once the thought of sweet, silky beets combined with cool, sour buttermilk and little waxy cubes of boiled potato occurred to me, it was difficult to think of anything else. A quick Google search led me to this recipe, in which the only cooking involved boiling beets and two eggs. (I had a few small leftover boiled potatoes from the day before, so I added those two - maybe you guys can tell me if that's more a Ukrainian thing? The original recipe, a Lithuanian one, is without potato.). The rest of the soup's work just involved dicing up a cucumber and some scallions. Once the beets were cooled and peeled, I grated them into a bowl, added the sliced scallions and chopped cucumbers, diced eggs and cubed potatoes, and then poured in a quart of buttermilk and a quart of cold water, plus salt to taste. The color was electric, hallucinatory, utterly stunning.

Lithuanian cold borscht

I stirred in a little sour cream at the end for richness, then put the bowl in the fridge to cool for a while. I committed what is probably heresy in the world of borscht by leaving out the dill, but as you may know, it is the final bastion in the almost-conquered world of Things I Do Not Under Any Circumstances Eat. Feel free to put it in, if you like dill. But for those of you for whom dill is an absolute no-go (solidarity fist-bump!), rest assured that the soup was as delicious as can be without it. Sour, crunchy, creamy, silky, cold and refreshing.

(As for the greens, I chopped them up, washed them verrrry carefully and then did a sort of Chinese stir-fry, with minced ginger and soy sauce and chile and garlic. They were delicious, especially with a fried egg on top. Yesterday I had another batch and made an aloo sag with them instead of spinach, which was also nice, but I messed up the potato-greens ratio and it was too potato-ey for my taste. My favorite use for them, actually, was in a frittata with a few sliced potatoes, chopped parsley and chunks of feta on top. I'm headed back to the greenmarket right now for another batch - have any other beloved beet green recipes to share?)

Cold Summer Borscht
Serves 6

1 pound beets (2-3 beets)
1 large potato (or 2-3 small ones)
½ English cucumber (or 2-3 baby cucumbers)
2 large eggs
4 scallions
Small bunch of fresh green dill (optional)
1 quart of kefir or buttermilk
1 quart of cold water
3 tablespoons of sour cream
Salt to taste

1. Put the washed beets and the potato in a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Cook, covered, at a low boil until a knife inserted into the potato goes in without resistance (should take about 20 minutes) The beets will take longer, but should submit to the same knife test. (Time can vary according to size and freshness of the beets.) Drain and cool until easy to handle. In a separate pot, hard-boil the eggs. Drain and cool the eggs. Wash the scallions and peel the cucumber.

2. When the beets have cooled sufficiently, peel them and grate them on the large holes of a box grater. Put the grated beets into a large soup bowl or pot. Peel and dice the eggs and the potato. Add both to the beets. Dice the cucumber and slice the scallions and add to the beets. Mince the dill, if using, and add to the vegetables.

3. Mix 3 tablespoons of sour cream into the vegetables and season with salt to taste. Then add the kefir or buttermilk and the water. Mix carefully, cover and put in the fridge to let the flavors meld. Serve cold from the fridge.

Nigel Slater's Pork Meatballs in Broth

Nigel Slater's Pork Meatballs in Broth

Meatballs! Oh, meatballs. Is there a more wonderful food? More pleasing to shriek out loud whilst walking your child, more lovely to mix and roll, more delicious to eat? I usually make meatballs in sauce, like the good Italian I am, and forget how many other ways there are to eat meatballs. But when Katie reminded me the other day, I practically tripped over myself getting to the store to buy ground pork.

I mean, ground pork flavored with mint and chiles and garlic and scallions, rolled into little balls and then suspended in broth? Hello? Was there ever any chance that I would hear about this recipe and not make it? No, I tell you. NO. (They're like skinless wontons in soup! In fact, next time I might actually wrap them in wonton skins.)

The recipe comes from Nigel Slater's Tender, his book on growing and cooking with vegetables, and it makes me giggle to no end that the original title for this recipe is Chicken Broth with Pork and Kale.


Why, if you are given the opportunity to use the word meatball, would you ever shy away from using it? Doesn't Nigel know MEATBALL! is how you sell a recipe? Chicken Broth with Pork and Kale, I mean, I wouldn't even bother reading the recipe after seeing that title. I'd just flip on by. Tell me you wouldn't. GO AHEAD. (Yeesh! I'm worked up or something!)

Anyway, I am herewith rebranding the recipe as Nigel Slater's Pork Meatballs in Broth, because meatballs deserve all the love and attention they command, every last drop of it. Loud and proud, meatballs, loud and proud.

Now, onto the recipe. It is so easy a child could do it. You simply flavor ground pork with chiles and herbs and garlic and scallions, then roll it into little balls. Emphasis on little! You want these to be one-bite meatballs, maximum two-bite. Then you lower them into simmering broth for a few minutes. The original recipe has you fry them first, but we all know how I feel about that. The meatballs taste just as delicious and you get to skip a whole, messy, pan-dirtying step. Boom!

Of course it'd be best if you made this with your own, lovingly prepared chicken broth. Of course! Of course. However, I am here to tell you that I made these with Better Than Bouillon vegetable stock (I should be getting stock options in the company at this point, shouldn't I?) (and yes, I know that it is most definitely not Whole30-approved, but life is full of tragic decisions and this was never going to be one of them) and it was sublime. Seriously! Totally delectable.

Finally, the original recipe tells you to blanch kale leaves and then float them in the broth (which is what Katie did, if you'd like photographic support). But kale has cleared out of stores here (and thank goodness is all I can say to that), so instead I used a very firm, very fresh zucchini sliced paper-thin and just threw the slices in at the very end of the cooking time. Why the zucchini? Because it's all I had in terms of green vegetables. Honest! No other reason. I imagine that a few spinach leaves would be nice here, too.

Meatballs! The best.

Nigel Slater's Pork Meatballs in Broth
Serves 3 or 4

500 grams (1 pound) ground pork
2 small hot chiles
4 scallions
2 cloves garlic
6 sprigs mint
6 springs cilantro or parsley
1.5 liters (6 cups) vegetable or chicken broth
1 fresh, firm zucchini, sliced paper-thin

1. Put the pork in a mixing bowl. Finely chop the chiles and add them with their seeds to the pork. Slice the scallions, discarding the roots and the very darkest tips of the leaves. Peel and mince the garlic, and add with the scallions to the pork. Pull the parsley or cilantro and mint leaves from their stems and chop coarsely, then add them to the pork with the salt. Mix everything thoroughly with your hands and form into about sixteen balls, about 1 1/4 inches in diameter.

2. Bring the stock to a boil in and season with salt and pepper. Lower in the pork balls and then decrease the heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes, until they are cooked through. Add the zucchini slices to the soup and serve one or two minutes later.

Marcella Hazan's Broccoli and Pasta Soup

Broccoli pasta soup

I'm sorry about dropping off the face of the earth last week. I really had no intention of going silent, but Hugo stopped napping - just stopped, yes, the horror - from one day to the next and the days went by in a blur. I was trying to keep things together while Hugo was flying on what must have been fumes and one evening, after he'd finally gone to bed, I sort of sat and whimpered in defeat in the kitchen for a bit. There might have been some cheese.

Anyway! Luckily for us all, but, let's face it, mostly me, Hugo has started napping again (praisegodthealmightyforeverandeveramen). And better yet, I have found the best soup of the year. I know it's only February 25, but I'm going to wager that this is it for the rest of 2013.

People, it is fabulous.

Blanched broccoli

Okay, now you're going to think it seems a little fussy to start. And you would be right, technically. There's the dissection of the broccoli, the blanching in two steps, the pan-frying, the pureeing. Yes. But that's really it for the work - the soup itself is a silly little throw-together. Put broth and broccoli stalk purée in a pan, then add some pasta to cook, then add the remaining sautéed broccoli. Parmesan on top of each serving and that's it! See? Not so bad, after all.

Because you cook the broccoli so briefly (you must follow Marcella Hazan's cooking directions to the minute, lest you want pallid results), it retains vibrant color, a fresh flavor and its wonderful just-tender quality - you know, almost rubbery, but in a good way? The pasta adds pleasing nubbiness to each spoonful and the Parmesan and garlic and broth all come together in the way they should, reliably producing the taste of Italy in your soup spoon. Magic.

Pureed broccoli

I imagine this is not news to most of you, but just in case there's someone out there who has yet to figure it out, Marcella Hazan's cookbook, The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, is sort of a non-negotiable acquisition if you want to know what Italian food really tastes like. It has no photos and Marcella's tone is severe - she doesn't want to pal around with you, she wants you to do what she says, just like any bossy Italian lady worth her salt - but it is such a valuable resource.

(Since I can pretty much guarantee that Marcella doesn't read this blog and I therefore won't incur her wrath, I shall confess the following: the original soup calls for homemade meat broth and homemade pasta. I, er, used my trusty Better Than Bouillon (scraping the bottom of the jar! thank goodness we fly to the States on Friday) and Barilla soup pasta. The soup was divine, life is short, do what your conscience tells you.)

(Oh! And one more thing: a certain 8-month old ate more of this soup than he did of his dinner. So it's baby-approved, too.)

Marcella Hazan's Broccoli and Pasta Soup
From The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Serves 6

1 medium bunch of broccoli
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped garlic (or two whole cloves)
2 cups beef or chicken broth
1/2 cup small, coarse soup pasta (I used these)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Detach the broccoli florets from the stalks. Trim away about 1/2 inch from the tough end of the stalks. With a sharp paring knife, peel away the dark green skin on the stalks. Split very thick stems in two lengthwise. Wash and set aside.

2. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, which will keep the broccoli green, and put in the stalks. When the water returns to a boil, wait 2 minutes, then add the florets. If they float to the surface, dunk them from time to time to keep them from losing color. When the water returns to a boil again, wait 1 minute, then retrieve all the broccoli with a slotted spoon. Do not discard the water in the pot.

3. Choose a sauté pan that can accommodate all the stalks and florets without overlapping. Put in the oil and garlic, and turn the heat to medium. Sauté the garlic until it turns pale gold. Add all the broccoli, some salt, and turn the heat up to high. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the broccoli florets to a plate and set aside. Do not discard the oil from the pan.

5. Put the broccoli stalks into a food processor, pulse for a moment, then add all the oil from the pan plus 1 tablespoon of the broccoli water. Finish processing to a smooth purée.

6. Put the purée into a soup pot, add the broth, and bring to a moderate boil. Add the pasta. Cook at a steady, gentle boil until the pasta is tender, but firm. Depending on the thickness and freshness of the pasta, it should take about 10 minutes. You will probably need to dilute the soup as it cooks, because it tends to become too dense. To thin it out, use some of the reserved broccoli water. Take care not to make the soup too runny.

7. While the pasta is cooking, separate the broccoli florets into bite-size pieces. As soon as the pasta is done, put the florets in the soup and continue cooking for 1 more minute. Taste and correct for salt, and serve the soup promptly with the grated Parmesan on top.

Rajat Parr's Black Lentil Soup


One thing you should know about living in Berlin is that there is no good Indian food here. None. There are plenty of Indian restaurants, but for some reason they all serve a variation on the same strangely insipid, gloppy mixtures that hold barely any resemblance to the Indian food I ate in Boston and New York over the years. The menus present no hint that India is a huge country, with myriad regions and cuisines (wherefore art thou, masala dosas of my heart?). And forget about anything spicy. Just forget it right now.

Oh, it's sad, alright. Whenever I go to London to visit my friend Betsy, we order takeaway from the Indian joint down the street from her and it is so good, so hot and complex and delicious, that I very willingly forgo all other meals in the city just to have that Indian food again and again. And then I return to Berlin and I hear about some new Indian place that has opened up and I get my hopes up, against my better judgment, and I go and once again am presented with mango chicken or some such train wreck and I feel deeply dejected all over again.


Luckily, a lot of Indian food isn't so hard to make at home. (Though I leave dosas and iddlies to the experts in New York.) Thanks to my father's obsession with Indian cooking, I even have a nice little collection of Indian cookbooks, full of wonderful things to eat. And anyway, it's not like I'm getting out of the house much these days. Hugo's nap schedule takes precedence over all.

I found this recipe for black lentil soup the other day when I staring at a jar of beluga lentils in my pantry and wondering how I'd use them up without a nice piece of salmon lying around to pair them with. Here you parboil the lentils with ginger and cardamom. Then you make a soup base with onions, garlic, butter and a quartet of spices, plus some canned tomatoes and stock, before adding the lentils back to the pot to simmer into a soup. It's very easy and was easily left halfway through when Hugo starting melting down, before being picked up later after he'd gone to bed. (This is often how I cook these days, in fits and starts. Just today I started a fruitcake recipe and literally abandoned it with one bowl already full of ingredients like chopped apples and puréed figs to go outside and run errands with the cranky child. Now that he's asleep, I was able to finish the job and the fruitcake's perfuming the house from the oven. It sounds irritating, but has its own satisfactions, this stop-and-go cooking.)

I added more lentils than the original recipe called for and used less butter and next time I make it, I'd probably purée half the soup, because it looks a little messy otherwise, but these are very faint criticisms. The soup is wonderfully fragrant and spicy and tastes just the way it's "supposed" to, at least to my Indian-starved palate. When you stir in the final bit of butter at the end to melt, it separates and pools at the edges of the soup. It's very nice indeed.

Rajat Parr's Black Lentil Soup
Makes 6 servings

1.5 cups black (Beluga) lentils
3 cardamom pods
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced, plus 2 tablespoons minced ginger
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
2 quarts vegetable stock
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
Salt to taste

1. In a pot, cover the lentils, cardamom and sliced ginger with 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil and cook over moderately high heat until the lentils start to soften, about 10 minutes. Drain the lentils and transfer to a bowl; discard the cardamom and ginger.

2. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the pot. Add the onion, garlic and minced ginger and and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Add the spices and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 4 minutes.

3. Add the stock, tomatoes and lentils to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer over moderate heat until the lentils are softened and the soup has thickened, about 1 hour. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter and season with salt. Ladle into bowls and serve.