Lentils are magic. They’re cheap, they’re full of protein and nutrients, and they’re easy to cook. There are, however, some tricks to making the best lentils possible, and I see a lot of recipes on the internet making similar mistakes.
1. Never add tomatoes to lentils until the very end of their cooking time. It can make them tough, and it definitely dramatically increases cooking time. Cook the lentils to tenderness first, then add tomatoes. You can simmer longer for added flavor once the tomatoes are added.
2. Red lentils do not and should not take 6 hours to cook unless they’re in a slow cooker (and even then only if it’s on low). Red lentils cook to tender in normal, home-cooking quantities in 20-30 minutes.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here’s one of my favorite recipes for red lentils.
Morroccan Lentil Soup
Beautiful and sophisticated, it's also really easy to make!
-Spices: 1 tsp tumeric, 1/2 tsp each: cinnamon, cayenne, nutmeg, black pepper, ground ginger, kosher salt.
-2 tsp. olive oil
-3 cloves garlic, smashed & chopped
-1 medium onion, diced or grated
-2 c. red lentils
-1 can coconut milk*
-1/2 cup carrots, diced
-1/2 c. raisins (golden is preferable, but you can use regular)
-4 c. water or vegetable broth (you can also use chicken broth)
-Half jar of home-canned tomatoes, or a large can of store-bought. Or, 3-4 medium tomatoes, diced and skinned.
-Cilantro and lemon for garnish, if desired.
* You can use “light,” but you’re going to lose mouth-feel. You can counteract this by adding a small bit of gelatin if you like.
Directions: Heat medium to large soup pot over medium-low heat, and add spices to bottom of pan and roast, stirring frequently, until very aromatic (about 1 -2 minutes). Do not burn. Add oil and onions. Sweat onions and garlic until tender and translucent, adding small amounts (a few tsp) of water if necessary to keep from sticking. Add garlic, stir, and cook for 1 minute. Add lentils, stir to coat with spices. Add all remaining ingredients except tomatoes and garnishes and increase heat to medium high. Bring to a simmer . Cook util lentils are tender, approximately 20-30 minutes. Add tomatoes and continue to simmer for 5-10 minutes to allow flavors to mingle. Taste and adjust spices if necessary. Serve with fresh cilantro (not pictured, as cilantro tastes like soap to Thadd) and a squeeze of lemon.
The great thing about this recipe is you can make it from things that are easily stored in a pantry for long periods of time, which makes it perfect for those nights you just don’t want to run to the store. You can substitute fresh carrots for dried (they’ll re-hydrate in the soup), and use re-hydrated dried onions.