Chef, author, TV host and global culinary ambassador Aliya Leekong is a Food Republic favorite. Leekong sources techniques and ingredients from around the world, and whether you’re making a recipe from her cookbook, Exotic Table, or just one off the top of her head (like this incredibly delicious spiced lentil soup), you’re in for an excellent meal.
This is a twist on my mom’s lentils, daal, which are spiced, nuanced and creamy. Daal was a staple in our household, and when I go home to visit, there is always some in the fridge to remind me of my childhood. In this soup, I make the lentils a bit more dilute and add in any greens I have lying around — kale, baby spinach, chard, a super greens blend — to take advantage of the cold-fighting vitamins. I sometimes add in a bit of coconut milk for silkiness, and if I need a bit more bulk, I throw in some cooked rice, bulghur or quinoa. Pickled shallots add the perfect tart balance and toasted cashews up the nuttiness factor.
- 1 cup split lentils (I prefer a combination of red and yellow), picked through and rinsed thoroughly
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2-3 tablespoons ghee or canola oil
- 1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
- Handful of curry leaves (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 or 2 small green chilies, seeded and minced
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 plum tomato, seeded and chopped
- 1 bunch kale, baby spinach, chard or 2 handfuls of a super greens blend, washed
- 14 ounces fresh homemade, raw or canned light coconut milk
- Salt, black pepper and lemon juice to taste
- 1 small handful of cilantro, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup pickled shallots, divided
- 1/4 cup cashews, toasted and roughly chopped
- 1 to 1/2 cups cooked brown rice or quinoa (optional)
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon sugar
For the shallots
In a bowl, whisk together vinegars, salt and sugar until dissolved. Add the shallots and toss to coat. Let it sit at least an hour before serving, but it can also be refrigerated and keeps for a week or so.
For the daal
In a large pot or dutch oven, add the lentils, turmeric and 4 cups of water. Bring up to a boil, lower to a simmer and simmer partially covered for 25 to 30 minutes until lentils are soft and break apart easily. Add in another 1/2 cup of water if too much has evaporated and the lentils look thick.
Heat a medium-size pan over medium-high heat. Add the ghee or oil, the mustard and cumin seeds, and the curry leaves, if using. When they start to sputter and pop, lower the heat to medium-low and add the shallot, chili, garlic, ginger and ground spices. Cook until the shallots are translucent and the spices smell toasted. Add the tomato and a bit of water so the spices don't burn. When the tomato starts to break down, add in the greens and let wilt slightly.
Throw the vegetable mixture into the lentils and add in the coconut milk here as well. Simmer for another 5 minutes for the flavors to combine, and then season generously with salt and pepper. The lentils can take a decent amount of salt for the flavor to really pop, and I like to alternate with squeezes of lemon juice to get the right acid/salt balance. Finish with the chopped cilantro.
For the bowl, if using, start with the brown rice, bulghur or quinoa. Ladle in the daal and top with pickled shallots, toasted cashews and a bit more cilantro.