I would have liked to have cooked up a fancy Valentine's Day meal, complete with this fabulous chocolate mousse, but busy travel itineraries, wintertime colds, and the demands of supervising the production of 99 cards, thwarted such plans.
In the end, it seemed fitting to turn to a well-loved family standby. This is a fragrant red lentil soup from Melissa Clark, that is delicious in its original incarnation, but which I've tinkered with over the years, adding more spices along with the cumin, and some sun dried tomatoes to the broth, and blending it into an intoxicatingly velvety and exotic puree.
I'm a little surprised that this spicy soup is a favorite with my chile-averse children. I think my daughter likes its smooth, silky texture, and my son probably finds the flavors familiar because I ate this so often when he was in utero. They also both love being able to play with the accompanying lemon wedges to their hearts' content. And I love being able to serve a simple, heart-warming meal that elicits repeated requests for additional helpings. Really, what better Valentine's Day gift is there than having one's food, cooked with love, be greeted with heartfelt enthusiasm?
Red Lentil Soup
Adapted from Melissa Clark
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled chopped
2 carrots or 1 carrot and 1 parsnip, peeled and diced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp chipotle chilli powder
1/4 tsp cayenne
salt to taste
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth plus two cups water (or use six cups water with 2 tsp Better than Boullion)
1/4 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes
1 1/4 cup red lentils
lemon wedges for garnish
chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
1. In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium high heat until hot and shimmering. Add onion and sauté until it starts to caramelize, then add the diced carrot (and parsnip if using) and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
2. Add spices and sauté until fragrant. Then stir in the tomato paste, and sauté for 2 minutes longer.
3. Add lentils and coat in spice paste. Then add broth and water and sun dried tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.
4. Using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor, purée the soup until smooth.
5. Reheat soup if necessary, then serve with lemon juice and cilantro.