When they announced 12 were coming for lunch in a few hours, I had only a momentary panic. After all, I have a pantry full of lentils and storage vegetables – especially winter squash – that I’m dying to get rid of before spring peas arrive. I’m always impressed that I make more dishes with winter squash around Easter time than around Thanksgiving. Hoarder!
This soup comes together with minimal fuss. In the past, I’ve made it with butternut squash, but this time had a very picturesque but nameless green winter squash with deep orange flesh. Sitting on the counter with coral-colored red lentils, it was stunning. The red lentils, masoor dal, a staple in Indian cuisine, give this soup an earthy texture. The addition of mustard seed and whole cumin seed made it vaguely Indian. The garnishes turned out to be an excellent complement: toasted mustard seed, cumin seed, cilantro, and a dollop of yogurt made the soup a party dish in no time.
Winter Squash and Red Lentil Soup adapted from Martha Rose Shulman, NYT
1½-2 lb winter squash (butternut or other firm-fleshed variety)
1 c red lentils
1 tbsp neutral vegetable oil (I use grapeseed)
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tsp yellow mustard seed (reserve 2 for garnish)
3 tsp whole cumin seed (reserve 1 for garnish)
4 tsp minced fresh ginger
¼ tsp ground turmeric
8 c water
Plain yogurt (optional)
Cut the squash into one-inch cubes or chunks. Rinse the lentils.
In a large soup pot over medium heat, warm the oil and add the onion and cook until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, 2 tsp each of mustard seed and cumin seed, ginger and turmeric, and sauté until fragrant, under a minute.
Add the squash, lentils and water and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Add salt (at least a tbsp). Turn down the heat and simmer until the squash and lentils are thoroughly cooked, about 35-40 minutes.
Puree the soup using an immersion blender (watch the splash!) or a food processor. Taste and add more salt and some freshly ground black pepper If you have time, let the soup sit for an hour to allow the spices to infuse the soup.
In a small frying pan, warm the reserved mustard seed and cumin seed.
To serve the soup, sprinkle with the reserved seeds, a few fresh cilantro leaves and a spoonful of yogurt.