“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves … We have had our Summer Evenings, now for October Eves!” – Humbert Wolf
On my Autumn bucket list: Make soup!
There is nothing more comforting as a bowl of hot soup on a chilly day. Ok, maybe a bowl of hot soup on a DAMP, chilly day!
And making soup, as my Great Aunt Martha always said, is therapeutic. It’s comforting to putter around a warm stove on an Autumn day. It’s a chance to express your creativity – you can add a little more of this, a little less of that, depending on your mood and how you are feeling that particular day. Soup makes your whole house smell delicious.
And, soup is a great way to sneak in some green veggies! Who doesn’t love a cup of “cream of …” soup?
Such as this lentil and spinach soup – an Indian version of “cream of spinach”.
Except there’s no cream, and no butter.
The red lentils make it creamy, substantial, and filling while adding a little kick of protein.
The warm garam masala spice blend is a sophisticated but logical step up from the usual “cream of spinach” spices of nutmeg, allspice, and red pepper flakes.
And of course there’s lots of spinach, which gives this soup a beautiful emerald green color.
You could serve this soup on St. Patrick’s Day.
Or you could serve this at Halloween, in black bowls, and call it Swamp Soup. Or Slime Soup. Or Ectoplasm Soup. Or Snot Soup … well, you get the idea.
I’ve been experimenting with this soup for awhile, and this milder version is – surprisingly – my favorite. (I say surprisingly because usually I am all about the garlic, the ginger, and the peppers!) But in this case subtle works. The lentils and spinach really don’t need much more than some onions, a wee bit of garlic, and garam masala to shine.
Ingredients for Palak Shorba:
1/2 Cup dried Red Lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 Medium Russet Potato, peeled and diced
4 Cups Water
1 1/2 Teaspoons Sea Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Turmeric (optional)
1 Medium Onion, diced
2-3 Serrano Chili Peppers, diced (or 2-3 Thai green chilis, if you can find them)
3 Cloves Garlic, minced or pressed
1 Roma Tomato, diced
1 TBL Canola Oil
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin (optional)
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Garam Masala
1 Large Box/Bag Baby Spinach (10 – 12 oz.)
1+ Cup Unsweetened Soy or Almond Milk
Fresh Limes or Lemons
Directions for Palak Shorba:
Add the rinsed and sorted lentils, the diced potato, the sea salt, and 4 cups of water to a large pot. (You can also add 1/2 teaspoon turmeric for taste, but be warned – your soup might turn more of a muddy green color and less of a vibrant emerald.) Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 20 minutes.
While the lentils and potatoes simmer, heat the canola oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes or until the onion starts to brown. Add the garlic and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the Roma tomato and cook until the tomato becomes soft. Add the cumin, if using, and the garam masala. Quickly stir around the pan to mix – be careful not to let the spices burn. Remove from heat.
By now your lentils and potatoes should be done. You want the lentils to be “mixed” – they should have lost their form. The potatoes should be very soft and falling apart if pressed with a spoon.
Add the onion masala mixture and stir.
Add the spinach. Keep stirring and lifting the lentils over the spinach so that the spinach wilts.
Once spinach has wilted, it’s time to blend. You can use an immersion blender (be careful if you have nonstick pots) or you can run it through a standard blender in batches.
You should now have a very thick soup. Add your favorite unsweetened cooking “milk” until the soup reaches the desired consistency. (Sometimes I like this soup a little on the thin side, so I can sip it from a mug.) The milk should cool the soup down to the perfect temperature for serving, but if you need to reheat, keep the heat on low and make sure you don’t let the soup come to a boil.
Taste. Add more salt or garam masala, if needed.
Serve with wedges of lime or lemon. Do NOT skip the citrus; a small squeeze really enhances the flavor of the spinach and lightens and brightens the soup.
To make a more traditional soup, use 6 cloves of garlic and a 1-inch piece of ginger, grated. You may also want to increase the amount of cumin, peppers, and garam masala you use.
If making this soup for a child (or anyone with a very delicate palate), feel free to omit the cumin. It adds a nice touch but isn’t essential. Also, eliminate the chili peppers and use a grind of fresh black pepper instead. The red lentils and garam masala will still give this an exotic flavor that’s not too big a departure from American cream of spinach soup.