It’s a brilliant spring day in Portland, Oregon, and with the wind chill factored in, around 37 degrees. I bundled up in several layers and topped those off with my heaviest winter coat, scarf, and gloves in order to walk my customary loop from the Pearl district to the Northwest district, over to Burnside, and then back again, about 4 miles. With a Walk Score of 91 out of 100 (Walker’s Paradise), walking is definitely part of my daily regimen when I am in Portland, even when it’s cold. Plus, I need to make up for all the chocolate I ate in February.
Today, I saw only one cherry tree in full blossom, but quite a few trees are at least beginning to bud. Daffodils are suddenly everywhere. The birds are back in droves and a chipmunk scampered out to me on an eye-level branch and put out his hands, as if to say, “Hey lady, got a spare peanut?” Yes, spring has finally sprung in the Northwest.
The average minimum temperature for Portland in March is 39 degrees, with an average maximum temperature of 56 degrees. Still cold in other words. And even though the Portland Farmers Market opens on March 21st (just in time for my birthday), I am thinking more about hearty, soul and body warming dishes than sprightly spring salads and grills.
In case you are on the same track in your corner of the world, I just put the finishing touches on the Lentil Primer. Check it out for basic guidelines on availability, selection, storage, preparation, cooking, and partnering with other ingredients. This is one ingredient that deserves wider appreciation and creativity in the kitchen. We shamelessly devoured the following soup, which magically got better and better with each day in the refrigerator. Now I need to make another batch quick before MauiJim notices there is none left.
Curried Tomato & Red Lentil Soup
Red lentils are wonderful legumes. They look as good as they taste—something of a feat for a member of the legume family. This soup is a casual meal in a bowl, with layers of flavor, heat, and spice—plus a nice balance between the sweetness of the vegetables and the acidity of the lemon juice and sour cream. It tastes best if made a day or two ahead, but we can never wait.
INGREDIENT NOTE If you don’t want the heat, omit the chiles.
2 tablespoons cold-pressed olive oil
4 cups chopped onion (2 large onions)
1 tablespoon minced or pressed garlic
2 tablespoon Madras brand curry powder
2-3 chile de arbol dried chiles, stemmed and crumbled (or ½-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper)
1 pound Washington red lentils, rinsed and checked for extraneous material
8-9 cups flavorful chicken stock, approximately (or vegetable stock)
two 14½ ounce cans chopped tomatoes (3 cups)
1½ cups chopped carrot (about 3-4 carrots)
1½ cups chopped celery (about 3-4 stalks)
1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
fine sea salt, to taste
freshly ground white pepper, to taste
6 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup sour cream or Greek-style yogurt, whisked briefly to smooth
small handful parsley leaves
4 very thin slices of lemon, quartered into wedge-shaped pieces
- In a soup pot, heat the olive oil and cook the onions, partially covered, over low heat until softened but not browned. If the onions begin to stick and brown before they are softened, add a little of the chicken stock.
- When softened, add garlic, curry powder, and crumbled dried chiles. Cook slowly for another minute or two.
- Add the lentils, chicken stock, and tomatoes; stir and bring to a simmer.
- Simmer slowly, partially covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are almost tender.
- Add the carrots and celery and continue simmering for an additional 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are just tender-crisp and still colorful.
- Stir in lemon juice.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper, adding a little more chicken stock if necessary to achieve a medium-light consistency.
- If desired, let cool, then refrigerate for several hours or days, until needed.
- To serve, rewarm the soup.
- Ladle into wide, shallow bowls, add a dollop of sour cream to each bowl, position a parsley leaf or two into the sour cream, and then position a tiny wedge of lemon next to the parsley.
Makes twelve 1-cup servings.