keito potato

Egyptian Lemony Red Lentil Soup
February 19, 2012, 1:41 pm
Filed under: recipes, soups | Tags: , , , , ,

The lemony red lentil soup comes from Egypt, but it’s a common soup all over North Africa and the Middle East.  I often enjoyed it as a first course when I spent time in Lebanon and Syria in the summer of 2009.  It has enough lemon juice, garlic, and cumin to be interesting, but not overpowering.  Don’t be intimidated by the amount of garlic in the recipe.  The whole cloves acquire a mellow and soft flavor when simmered as whole cloves in the soup.

This soup is made with red lentils (masoor dal), that are orange when raw, and turn goldenrod-color when cooked.  They disintegrate a bit when cooked (similar to split peas), but a quick whirr with the immersion stick blender smooths the soup out fully, pureeing the onion and whole garlic that have softened during simmering.  When the potato cubes in the soup get pureed, they soften out the texture of the soup and give it body.

It’s simple to pull together for company.  Because you puree the soup, you only have to roughly chop the onion and potatoes, and use whole garlic cloves.  Just simmer everything, then puree it all at the end.  I had friends over for lunch two days ago, and served this soup paired with olive-bread panini and mint tea.  It would also be nice with a Middle Eastern salad like fattoush or this parsley salad.


1 cup dried red lentils

2 cups roughly chopped onions

2 cups chopped potatoes

8-10 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole

5 cups water

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

3-6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (to taste)

salt and black pepper to taste


Wash the red lentils in several changes of water, and rinse.  Do this in the way that you wash and rinse rice.  Combine the lentils, onion, potatoes, garlic, and water in a large soup pot.  Cover, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until everything is tender, 15-20 minutes.  Remove from the heat.

In a small skillet on low heat, warm the oil until it is hot but not smoking.  Add the cumin, turmeric, and salt.  Cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes.  Take care not to scorch the spices.  Add this to the soup.

Puree the soup with an immersion stick blender until smooth.  Add the lemon juice.  Reheat gently and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Roast Winter Squash Salad with Lentils and Goat Cheese
December 21, 2011, 9:59 am
Filed under: main dishes, recipes, salads | Tags: , ,

When you’ve overdosed on xmas cookies, you might crave some lighter meals around the holidays.  This warm winter salad is utterly delicious, earthy, and healthful.  The bright dressing and goat cheese bring the dish together, and the lentils are richly-flavorful with sauteed aromatics and herbs.

I made it for the first time a few years ago in Berkeley with my cousin Patricia, and it has become a favorite winter salad.  It comes from Diana Henry’s book Roast Figs Sugar Snow, which is a collection of vibrant recipes for cold weather, gathered from Northern Europe and New England.  Last winter I shared the orange-cardamom star cookies from the same cookbook.   My favorite chocolate-rosemary sorbet comes from her cookbook Crazy Water Pickled Lemons.

Serve this as a colorful side dish, or by itself for a simpler meal.  It’s a breeze to made since you assemble everything while the squash roasts.


3-3.5 lb. (1.5 kg) winter squash, such as butternut or acorn
salt and pepper
olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
9 oz (250 g) goat cheese, broken up

for the lentils:

9.5 oz (275 g) green lentils
1/2 small onion, or 1 super-small onion or shallot
1 small stalk celery
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley

for the dressing:

1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
tiny dollop Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons olive oil
good pinch sugar


Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).  Halve the winter squash and scoop out the seeds and fibers.  Peel the squash and cut into 1-inch pieces.  Put the squash wedges in a roasting tray.  Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and dot with butter.  Roast it in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.  Turn the wedges over a few times during baking.  Don’t let it scorch or get too dry.

Meanwhile, prepare the lentils while the squash is in the oven.  Rinse the lentils, then cover them with cold water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Cook until tender, 15-30 minutes.  They should be tender and hold their shape.

While the lentils are cooking, chop the onion and celery finely.  Gently saute them in a wide skillet with the butter and olive oil until they are soft.

Meanwhile, prepare the dressing by whisking all of the dressing ingredients together.  Also chop the parsley at this time.  Set both aside.

When the lentils are cooked, add them to the pan of onions and celery.  Stir them around to soak up the cooking juices.  Add 2/3 of the dressing and the chopped parsley.  Season well with salt and pepper.

Serve either on a wide serving platter or on individual plates.  Mound the lentils, then top with the roasted squash.  Dot with the nuggets of goat cheese, drizzle on the remaining dressing.

Spinach Dal Soup with Lime
August 8, 2011, 7:30 pm
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A clean, earthy,vibrant, and restorative soup.  This makes an intriguing first course for an Indian meal, and can also stand on its own for a healthful supper.  This evening I ate two bowls of it in the backyard. 

I adapted this soup from a dal recipe in Yamuna Devi’s cookbook, The Best of Lord Krishna’s Cuisine.  I have doubled the amount of spinach which I have  proclivity to do.  I also have substituted lime juice instead of lemon, and have quadrupled the amount of the juice.  You are welcome to serve this over rice, but because of its thin consistency I prefer to eat it straight as a soup.

A small amount of asafoetida powder gives this soup an intoxicating twist.  You might need to visit an Indian deli/grocery to find it. Be forewarned that when you unscrew the lid of the jar, the raw asafoetida powder will smell a little weird.  But relax: once the asafoetida cooks, its weirdness will calm down, and dissolve into the soup as merely assertive and interesting.

This soup calls for split “mung” (or “moong”) dal, which is apparently the most popular dal in Northern India.  If you can’t find split mung dal nearby, you can easily substitute normal orange lentils.  I’ve done that substitution a few times in a pinch, and it works fine.


2/3 cup split mung dal

6  1/2 cups water

1 teaspoon turmeric

1  1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1  1/2 teaspoons grated ginger

quick dollop of olive oil or vegetable oil

1 lb. fresh spinach (Yamuna Devi uses 1/2 lb.)

1  1/4 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/4 teaspoon asafoetida

1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne

juice of 1 lime (roughly 2 tablespoons)


Sort, wash, and drain the mung beans.  Place them in a heavy saucepan, along with the water, turmeric, ground coriander, grated ginger, and a quick dollop of olive oil.  Stirring occasionally, bring to a full boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and gently boil for 1 hour.  The dal should be soft and fully cooked.

While this is cooking, roughly chop the spinach.  I admit that I rather enjoy getting out my big Chinese cleaver and chopping a huge pile of spinach.  The movement feels as soft as cutting marshmallows, and works well to calm the nerves.

When the dal has cooked for an hour, off the heat, uncover, and add the salt.  Beat with a wire whisk or hand-held immersion blender.  Add the fresh spinach, cover and boil gently for 5-8 minutes more.

Have your cumin, asafoetida, and cayenne measured out so that you’ll be able to work quickly.  Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a small saucepan or skillet over moderate to moderately high heat.  When it is hot, pour in the cumin seeds and fry until they are brown.  Add the asafoetida and cayenne, and fry for just 1-2 seconds more.  Then quickly pour the fried seasonings into the soup.  Cover immediately. 

Let the seasonings soak into the hot dal for 1-2 minutes.  During this time, juice the lime.  Add the lime juice, and stir.  Taste for salt.  I often add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon more salt at the end, but it’s safer to start with less, and work up to what you need.

Lemon Dal
October 18, 2010, 9:02 pm
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: , , , ,

I would easily guess there are more than 100 dal recipes in my house, but this lemon dal has recently become the hands-down favorite. Can you believe it? After years of revering the classic onion/garlic/cumin/coriander/turmeric/mustard-seed dal? And my recent crush on a ginger/spinach/chili dal soup? I’m telling you soberly that I’m enjoying this one more. It’s exceptional, and I’m addicted.

I know of numerous “lemon” stews that ask you to squirt in lemon juice before serving, but this one is unique in that you float a lemon-half in the dal for nearly an hour. The slow-steeping softens the lemon, making it fragrant like a gentle lemon perfume, and yet the lemon is somehow also more deep and elemental without being sharp like a preserved lemon. Also consider that the other aromatics are stewed onion slices, cinnamon sticks, ginger and bay leaves. This is completely different from other dals I know of.  A fragrant respite if you’re on cumin-overload.

My household crafts Indian feasts (normally with 3 curries from scratch plus basmati) so often that we decided it made logical sense to commit ourselves to cooking Indian weekly.  We have decided on Mondays (so you might expect more Indian recipes on keitopotato on Mondays).   Even though 100 other dal recipes are good options, I’ll bet this one will make a common appearance at our table.

This recipe was clipped from the LA Times in an article of recipes from the Indian film producer Ismail Merchant.  I have strayed from his original recipe only in omitting the scattering of cilantro at the end.  If you know me, you know that I always skip the cilantro.

I often double the recipe, and eat the leftover lemon dal on rice as breakfast for the next few days (and sometimes lunch as well — I told you I was addicted to this).


Ismail Merchant’s Lemon Lentils (Nimbu Masoor Dal)



6 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cinnamon sticks
1 pound masoor dal (orange split lentils) picked over and rinsed
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped ginger
2 1/2 cups vege broth
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 serrano or japapeno chile, chopped with seeds
2 bay leaves



Heat 6 tablespoons oil in a large, deep saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring, until tender. Add the cinnamon sticks, dal, and ginger. Cook, stirring often, 10 minutes.

Add the stock, 2 cups water, red pepper, and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Squeeze juice from the lemon halve, straining the seeds. Add the lemon juice and the lemon halve to the lentils. Cook 50 minutes, stirring often. Add up to 1 cup more water, if dal dries out too much.

Heat olive oil in a small pan. Add chopped onion, garlic, chili and bay leaves. Cook, stirring, until onion is browned. Add mixture to lentils and stir. Serve hot.