John and I decided to take a much-needed vacation to Barbados this week so I asked my colleague Sarah for another one of her fabulous posts & recipes. I requested a recipe that involves lentils. Lentils are super healthy and versatile, but I personally don’t use them all that often. I’m not sure if it’s that I don’t really know what to do with them, or that I forget about them, but I will definitely make this delish soup as soon as we get back.
I first fell in love with lentils midway through graduate school. It started out at a local Middle Eastern restaurant, I think, when I developed a serious crush on their lentil soup. The flavours amazed me. And while I’d like to think my palate and culinary skills have evolved over the years, lentil soup is still one of my favourite things both to cook and to eat. The relationship I’ve had with lentils has sustained me through my move to Toronto, when, broke and unemployed, I ate a lot of them paired with brown rice. Even now, I dream of lunching in Paris, eating tangy French lentil salads and bites of goat’s cheese while sipping on a glass of rosé.
Unfortunately, not everyone shares my admittedly obsessive love of the humble lentil. When I worked in the catering industry, the lentil was sadly dismissed as veritable bird food, fit only for stuffing vegetarian timbales or making vegan meatloaf. But the characteristics others find so offensive – they taste like dirt! So bland! – are the very components that excite me as a home cook and voracious eater. Spices and simple pantry ingredients have a Cinderella-esque effect on the lentil, transforming it from peasant food to something elegant and interesting. From soups and curries to burgers and desserts, there are many reasons why lentils – nutrient-dense and economical – should have a permanent place in your kitchen. (For a great rundown on the various types of lentils and their uses, click here for a comprehensive guide!)
I don’t know about you, but these sub-freezing temperatures we’ve been experiencing lately in Toronto have me begging for soup, stews and comfort food. Fortunately this one is packed with nutrients to keep you healthy and energetic as we move into spring. Here’s a breakdown of why this is such a super soup:
Red lentils – lentils have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any legume or nut. On top of that, they are a great source of insoluble and soluble fibre, folate, tryptophan (helps regulate appetite and sleep, elevates mood), manganese, and iron among other vitamins and minerals.
Please note, though, that lentils have a relatively high phytate content. Phytates are not digestible by humans and tend to chelate (bind) to minerals, especially iron, making it hard for your body to absorb them. To increase the bioavailability of iron and other nutrients, try to soak your lentils overnight, which reduces the phytate content substantially (this is also why some people sprout lentils and other legumes.)
Split peas – provide a good amount of protein, two B-vitamins, and several important minerals. Peas also include isoflavones, which are helpful in reducing the risk of breast and prostate cancer. Peas help to detoxify sulphites, reduce plaque in the blood vessels and stabilize blood sugar. Like the lentils, try to soak your peas overnight to reduce the phytate content.
Tomato paste – contains vitamins A, C, K, several of the B vitamins and the antioxidant lycopene, which helps to decrease risk of prostate cancer.
Coconut milk – here it is again, coconut! Coconut milk is high in iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, selenium, zinc, folate, and vitamin C. It also contains vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamine, vitamin B6, niacin, choline, pantothenic acid and calcium. Coconut milk can help blood cholesterol levels by raising HDL, the healthy cholesterol. It’s also great for hair and skin and your immune system. To see the full list of benefits – so many! – click here.
Curry powder – curry powder contains turmeric. The curcumin in turmeric is known to reduce inflammation (important for those who suffer from arthritis) and may help to ward off Alzheimer’s Disease by interfering with the formation of beta-amyloid, a harmful plaque that affects brain function in Alzheimer’s patients. On top of that, turmeric aids digestion, exhibits anti-cancer properties and may reduce LDL, the unhealthy cholesterol.
Cilantro – the chemical compounds in cilantro bind to toxic metals in the body, helping to loosen them from the tissue. A great addition to any detox program! If you don’t like cilantro, you can substitute parsley for similar benefits.
Oh, and the most important things: this soup is wicked good, easy to throw together and, as with most lentil recipes, economical.
Curried Red Lentil, Split Pea and Coconut Soup
Adapted slightly from Heidi Swanson
Notes: curry powders vary pretty widely. I buy the bulk of my spices from The House of Spice in Toronto’s Kensington Market – their spices are always super fresh and economical. Their hot Madras curry powder, in particular, is lovely in this recipe; the heat plays well with the coconut milk and raisins. I would recommend using something similar to that here, though any curry powder you have on hand will be fine. You can always add cayenne pepper to taste after the soup is made.
1 cup red lentils
1 cup split peas (yellow or green)
7 cups of water
2 carrots, diced
2 tbsp peeled and minced ginger
2 tbsp curry powder (see notes)
2 tbsp coconut oil (butter or grapeseed oil are fine)
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 can of coconut milk
2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
- Sort your lentils and peas for stones and rinse well to remove dust/dirt. Add to a large, thick-bottomed pot (I use a Dutch oven) and add water. Cover and bring to a boil
- In the meantime, prep your carrots and ginger. Once the legumes are boiling, add the carrot and ¼ of the ginger and reduce to a simmer.
- Melt the coconut oil over low-medium heat in a small saucepan or skillet. Add the raisins and the remaining ginger and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Add the mixture along with the curry powder and coconut milk to the soup.
- Continue simmering the soup until the legumes are fully cooked and the flavours are well-combined, about 25 minutes. Add the salt, taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. The soup will continue to thicken as it cooks. Serve hot garnished with cilantro. Consume within the week.
Nutrition facts per serving:
350 calories, 16g fibre, 14g protein, 15g good fat
Sarah Berneche holds a B.A.H. and M.A. in English Literature & Creative Writing from the University of Windsor and a post-graduate certificate in Creative Book Publishing from Humber College. She works in corporate advertising and is currently pursuing her R.H.N. designation through CSNN’s distance education program to further her knowledge of food & nutrition. In her free time, she volunteers as a fruit gleaner and event organizer for Not Far From the Tree and as a contributing blogger & editor for LEAF.