Addicted to Ottolenghi – Red Lentil Soup with Fried Tofu and Spicy Chickpeas
For the last month or so Dustin and I have sought solace from the cold winter weather in hearty meaty sauces, stews, and chilis. This past weekend, with warm weather on the horizon, we looked to change tempo with a meat free weekend of cooking. Thinking of ways to make protein packed vegetarian mains my mind drifted straight to lentils. Lentils are by far my favorite vegetarian protein. I love that they are so amazingly versatile, the many different varieties make them well suited for a variety of different types of dishes. Firmer lentils such as puy and beluga add a nice toothsome bite to salads and can withstand longer cooking times without turning to mush. Yellow and red lentils, on the other hand, are easily transformed into smooth soups and make an excellent base for silky purees and dips.
There are few cooks famous for vegetarian cooking, and even fewer who approach meatless cuisine with the same innovative zeal as Yatam Ottolenghi. I love looking through Ottolenghi’s archived recipes on the BBC’s website. The hundreds of vegetarian recipes provide a breath of fresh air when my usual fail safe flavors prove boring and stale. This can be especially useful during the winter months when the variety of produce is limited and inspiration is hard to come by.
As if that wasn’t enough reason to scour the web for Yatam’s delicious dishes, many of his dishes offer creative ways to take advantage of dried legumes and whole grains, all of which are relatively inexpensive and incredible healthy. We typically have a wealth of stored legumes in the pantry but if you don’t have these on hand it is fun to peruse the dried goods section of Whole Foods (or other health foods markets that offer bulk grain bins) looking for new whole grains to try. I have been reading lately about many of the bargain options available at Whole Foods, it appears that many of their stores offer tours to show shoppers thrifty and healthy options.
This dish certainly packs a healthy punch. The lentils themselves are rich in protein. While they are members of the legume family, unlike beans they are free of sulfur an, therefore don’t cause the same “wind” issues as their beany brethren. Lentils have been a dietary mainstay since biblical times. They are, in fact, featured in the book of Genesis, where Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentils. The coconut milk in this dish provides a nice substitute for heavy cream – which is more often used to create a creamy flavor in pureed soups. It also keeps this dish vegan friendly. I recommend using Chaokoh brand coconut milk, which is typically available at Asian markets – it is amazingly rich and smooth. While you can use lite coconut milk, I recommend using the full fat variety as it adds needed body and richness and helps the spices shine. The tofu and chickpeas are both “optional” – if you don’t have the time or don’t want to fry up the tofu it can easily be omitted. Both of these add a nice textural contrast to the smooth creamy soup.
Red Lentil Soup with Fried Tofu and Spicy Chickpeas Adapted from a Recipe from Yatam Ottolenghi
2 TBSP Sunflower Oil
1 Large Onion, Chopped
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
One 3 Inch Piece of Ginger, Chopped
¾ TSP Each Ground Cumin, Turmeric, and Coriander
One Pinch Each Ground Cardamom and Ground Cinnamon
400ml Good Quality Coconut Milk
250g Red Lentils
Thickly Peeled Skin of ½ Lemon, Plus Juice of 1 Lemon
For Chili Oil
1 TSP Cumin Seeds
¾ TSP Aleppo Pepper Flakes
For Fried Tofu
50g Corn Flour
220 Firm Tofu, Cut into 1 Inch Cubes
1 Can Cooked Chickpeas, Drained
1/2 TSP Ground Cumin
1/2 TSP Smoked Paprika
1/4 TSP Salt
3 TBSP Chopped Cilantro
Heat two tablespoons of sunflower oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and on medium-low heat sweat for eight minutes until soft. Add the garlic, ginger and ground spices, and cook, stirring, for eight minutes. Add 900ml water, the coconut milk, lentils and lemon skin (not the juice). Bring to a boil, then simmer until the lentils are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove the lemon skin, add one and a quarter teaspoons of salt and some pepper. Allow to cool slightly and then blend until smooth. Taste and add more salt to taste.
Pour another two tablespoons of oil into a small saucepan and heat. Add the cumin seeds and chilli flakes, and cook on low heat for a minute. Tip out into a heatproof bowl.
Wipe clean the saucepan and pour in enough oil to come 2cm up the sides. While the oil is heating up, mix the corn flour with a quarter-teaspoon of salt and some white pepper. Toss the tofu in the corn flour, shake off any excess and fry in batches until golden, about five minutes (the oil must be just hot enough gently to fry the tofu). Drain on kitchen towel and set aside somewhere warm.
For the chickpeas – preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the chickpeas with 1 TBSP sunflower or olive oil and the spices. Spread in a single layer on a sheet pan and roast in the oven until browned and crunchy and 25 minutes.
To serve, heat up the soup, stir in the lemon juice and divide between four bowls. Top each with some fried tofu, crunchy chickpeas, and a drizzle of the cumin and chilli oil, and finish with a sprinkling of cilantro.