January is the perfect time to make soup. There’s something comforting about a pot simmering on the stove with fresh stock ingredients on a cold, gray day. This week and next I will be sharing soup recipes that warm the soul, starting with my favorite Red Lentil Soup.
You probably already have most ingredients for this soup right in your pantry. I had everything on hand except sweet potatoes. I wish all my recipes were this easy to shop for. The best part is that, aside from a bit of peeling and dicing, there is very little effort involved. All the ingredients are put into a crockpot. Put a lid on it, set the timer for three hours and forget about it until dinner time. Did you know that January is “Slow Cooker Month?” Yep, it’s a real celebration! If you don’t own a Crockpot, don’t worry. You can bring the ingredients to a light boil then simmer on low for 3 hours or until all the ingredients have incorporated and the lentils are tender.
This soup has a slight Thai flavor. The coconut milk and peanut butter add a sweetness that contrasts with the warm spice blend. Then the lime and cilantro that finish the soup add a layer of flavor that keep you digging your spoon into the bowl.
Maybe you’ve heard of harissa, but have you ever tried it? If you love condiments and adding a kick of spice to your meals, you’ll want to check this out! I first learned about this seasoning while I was in Paris. Friends of mine had traveled to Morocco and were in love with the combination of flavors. Recently, I ordered a sandwich in a little shop in Chicago that had a harissa mayo. It took the sandwich to a whole new level.
Harissa is a spicy and aromatic chile paste that’s a widely used staple in North African and Middle Eastern cooking. Harissa recipes vary between countries and regions, but a standard version includes a blend of hot chile peppers (which are often smoked), garlic, olive oil and spices, like cumin, coriander, caraway and mint. Tomatoes and rose petals are also common ingredients.
Even if you love spicy food, harissa packs quite a punch. A little goes a long way. Harissa is most commonly found ready-made in jars, tubes and cans. A spice powder version is also available. Your best bet for finding harissa is Middle Eastern markets, specialty stores and in the ethnic section of most grocery stores.
You can also make it yourself. It’s really easy! (recipe at end of post)
Red Lentil Soup
- 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- 2 cans light coconut milk
- 2 cups diced sweet potato
- 1 cup diced carrot
- 1 cup finely diced white onion
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup split red lentils
- 1 Tbsp Harissa spice blend*
- 1/2 cup peanut butter (no added sugar, where possible)
- 1 lime – zest and juice
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup chopped, fresh cilantro
- 1 cup crumbled goat cheese
- In a 6-quart slow cooker, combine stock, coconut milk, sweet potato, carrot, onion, garlic, lentils, spices, and peanut butter. Stir well so that the peanut butter is evenly distributed.
- Secure the lid and cook for 3.5 hours on high setting or until vegetables are tender.
- When soup is ready, stir in lime juice and zest, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Pour into bowls and garnish each with cilantro and crumbled goat cheese.
Make Your Own Harissa Spice Blend*
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp whole coriander seeds
- 1 tsp whole caraway seeds
- 1 tsp chili flakes
- ½ tsp garlic powder
Toast whole coriander and caraway seeds in a sauté pan on low heat until aromatic. Toss in a spice/coffee grinder and process with remaining spices. A mortar and pestle can be used to grind the spices as well. Use as desired in recipes.