I look for ‘drama in the mouth’ when eating…I am always on the lookout for bursts of pronounced flavors. – Yotam Ottolenghi, renowned chef and author
I’ve been deeply absorbed in London-based, Jerusalem-born Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, Plenty More, since it was released earlier this month. Like Plenty, it’s filled with recipes that make vegetarian food sexy and seductive. I’m absolutely in love with all the fresh combinations, textures, spices and bold flavors. When his Thai red lentil soup caught my eye I knew I had to try it right away. Yes, I know I recently posted another recipe for red lentil soup (Coconut Red Lentil and Squash Soup), but can you have too many recipes for lentil soup? I think not. This one is great, especially if you like Thai food. It’s fresh, creamy and loaded with traditionally Thai flavors that come from lemongrass, Kaffir leaves, and spicy red curry paste. Finished by a drizzle of spicy and aromatic chili oil, this soup is a perfect companion for those cool fall and winter days.
Ottolenghi advises to skip the the topping of sugar snap peas if you prefer your soup with no “interruptions,” that is, totally smooth. Also, you can do without the spicy oil, choosing to drizzle your soup with a good savory sauce instead, but with hints of star anise, curry and fresh ginger, the oil is definitely aromatic and something to try!
As I love eating soup with grains, we enjoyed this of soup over a bed of farro. If you’ve tried any recipes from Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, please let me know. It will help me determine which recipe I should try next!
Thai Red Lentil Soup with Aromatic Chile Oil
Slightly Adapted from Plenty More
4 oz/120 grams sugar snap peas
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced (1½ cups/160 grams)
1½ tablespoon vegetarian red curry paste
2 lemongrass stalks, gently bashed with a rolling pin
4 fresh Kaffir lime leaves (or 12 dried)
1¼ cups/250 grams red lentils*
1 cup/250 ml coconut milk
1½ tablespoons lime juice
1½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup/15 grams cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
2-3 cups cooked farro
¾ cup/180 ml sunflower oil
1 banana shallot, or 2 regular shallots, coarsely chopped (½ cup/50 grams)
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon peeled and coarsely chopped fresh ginger
½ red chile, coarsely chopped
½ star anise pod
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon tomato paste
grated zest of ½ small lemon
First make the chile oil. Heat 2 tablespoons of the sunflower oil in a small saucepan. Add the shallot, garlic, ginger, chile, star anise, and curry powder and fry over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the shallot is soft. Add the tomato paste and cook gently for 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining oil and the lemon zest and simmer very gently for 30 minutes. Leave to cool and then strain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve.
For the soup, bring a small pan of water to boil and throw in the sugar snap peas. Cook for 90 seconds, drain, refresh under cold water, and set aside to dry. Once cool, cut them on the diagonal into slices 1/16-inch/2-mm thick.
Heat the sunflower oil in a large pot and add the onion. Cook over low heat, with a lid on, for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the onion is completely soft and sweet. Stir in the red curry paste and cook for 1 minute. Add the lemongrass, lime leaves, red lentils, and 3 cups/700 ml water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to low, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the lentils are completely soft.
Remove the soup from the heat and take out and discard the lemongrass and lime leaves. Use a blender to process the soup until it is completely smooth. Add the coconut milk, lime juice, soy sauce, and ½ teaspoon salt and stir. Return the soup to medium heat, and once the soup is almost boiling, ladle into bowls. Scatter the snap peas on top, sprinkle with cilantro, and finish with ½ teaspoon chile oil drizzled over each portion.
Notes: Please note, the soup is a bit spicy, even without the chile oil. If you don’t enjoy things too spicy, you might want to slightly decrease the amount of curry paste and/or add more coconut milk. This is what I did so my son and husband could eat it with comfort.
My adaptations were slight. I used olive oil instead of sunflower oil, and to thin out my soup, and make a portion less spicy, I added more of water and coconut milk. To serve, I decided to ladle the soup over a bed of cooked farro (barley would also work).
*Rinse your red lentils with water, until the water is no longer murky, before cooking.
**As you’ll make more chile oil than you need for the soup, keep it in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to a month. You can use it to drizzle over other soups, salads and grilled dishes.