An extremely simple take on a widespread dish of Masoor Dal transforms a very basic ingredient list into a subtle, flavorful soup with surprising depth.
Endless varieties of lentil (dal) soups can be found across the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, as the dried pulse has been a dietary and cultural staple (and an essential source of basic protein) for thousands of years. Most diners know of masoor dal, or red/pink lentil soup, as characteristically Indian but their neighbors to the east in Bangladesh have a distinctly different yet no less appealing take on the dish.
Whereas Indian dal is a complex and firey soup with a relatively large number of spice combinations, the Bangladeshis prefer to rely on simple aromatic ingredients with almost no spice additions at all. With little more than a couple of chiles, garlic and some cilantro, the red lentils are left to slowly stew for far longer than is necessary, leaving the legumes broken down as a starchy thickening agent without using fat, flour or dairy.
And with that long, slow cook, the onion, tomatoes and garlic cook down as well, imparting as much flavor as they can to the almost bland lentil base. With such simplicity, a large number of variations can be applied with significant effect: Char the ingredients over a flame or under a broiler to add a smoky layer in the taste. Purée a portion of the finished soup and return it to the pot for a smoother, creamier mouthfeel.
This soup is traditionally made without using animal products, but substituting stock (chicken, lamb, fish) for the water will lend a greater body and flavor to the finished result. More spices can easily be included for a more Indian or Persian influence, and the chiles can be adjusted for personal taste and heat preference.
Serve with (or over) steamed rice and grilled vegetables, with plenty of roti for sopping.
1 c red lentils (dried)
2 Thai chiles
1 yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 Finely chop the tomatoes, onion and garlic. Sauté in a little oil until soft, about 5 min.
2 Add the lentils and chiles with 4 c water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, over low heat for 45 min or until the lentils break down.
3 Remove 1-2 c of soup to a blender and purée until smooth, then return to the pot. Mince the cilantro and stir in at serving. Season to taste.