I’m not a religious person except when it comes to the healing power of chicken soup. At the first sniffle of a new cold, I’m usually plopping a raw chicken into a pot with root vegetables and parsley and dill; or, more recently, doctoring homemade chicken broth with ginger, soy sauce, and chile paste. Last Thursday, though, I felt a cold coming on and instead of turning to the feathered gods wearing yarmulkes in a jacuzzi, I turned to a new god, one whose soup mastery revealed itself on Craig’s birthday with celery root and pears. That god is Alfred Portale and I’m now an official acolyte, studying his under-appreciated cookbook, Simple Pleasures, the way Madonna studies Kabbalah. It’s powerful stuff.
The title is perfect because the book is filled with recipes that are, indeed, simple yet amazingly pleasurable. That celery root soup was really just celery root cooked in chicken broth, pureed, and served with caramelized pears on top. Easy. This soup is even easier.
It goes like this: flavor some oil with onions, garlic, ginger, chiles, and curry powder:
Add lentils; green ones (which Portale prefers because they “hold their shape better when cooked and have a finer flavor than traditional Indian lentils”):
Cook 30 to 40 minutes, season with salt and pepper, then add spinach (sorry for the blurry pic):
Cook that down, stir in lemon juice and voila.
A stunningly flavorful soup that you top with lots of chopped scallions and cilantro:
Did this prevent my cold from coming on the way chicken soup might have? No, I’m sad to say: the cold still came. But this soup waged a serious battle; the heat from the chiles did lots of good things for my clogged nose and the soup was filling and nourishing in a way that chicken soup sometimes isn’t. (Sorry, chicken soup.)
My only fear is if I keep cooking from this cookbook, I’m going to love everything as much as I loved these two soups and then all I’ll do is blog Alfred Portale recipes until he finds out about it and sues me. So, as it stands, I’ll keep quietly worshipping at Temple Beth Alfred and when the next truly religious experience happens, I’ll break my silence and continue to convert you all. Amen.
Recipe: Curried Lentil Soup with Spinach
Summary: From Alfred Portale’s Simple Pleasures.
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 cup finely diced onion
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 2 green chile peppers, such as jalapeño, seeded and minced
- 4 teaspoons Madras curry powder
- 4 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 3/4 cup French green lentils
- Coarse salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups (loosely packed) coarsely chopped spinach
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
- 3 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions, white and light green parts only
- Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, with a pinch of salt, until softened but not browned, 4 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, half the chile, and the curry powder. Cook for 2 more minutes over medium heat. Add the stock and lentils, raise the heat to high, and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover the pot, and cook until the lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Just before serving, raise the heat and add the spinach. Cook, stirring, until the spinach has wilted, about 1 minute. Stir in the lemon juice (to brighten and focus the flavors) and then add the remaining minced chile.
- To serve, divide the soup among individual warmed bowls. Sprinkle each serving with cilantro and scallions.
Preparation time: 15 minute(s)
Cooking time: 40 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4