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Red Lentil Stew

I have somewhat of a soup obsession. I admit I have always loved the taste and smell of a homemade pot of soup. One of my earliest memories is of a homemade chicken and rice soup that my mom made when I was very young. I can still remember the warmth and heartiness of that soup. I started experimenting making my own soups when I was in high-school and learned invaluable tips from mothers of friends who made outstanding soups, like Mrs. Hall’s ham and split pea soup, Carol G.’s potato leek soup, Mrs. C.’s winter vegetable soup a.k.a Cherie’s soup and of course any of Mary S.’s tomato-based soups.

Soup has always been my favorite meal to cook and to eat. I have made so many different soups this past year I can’t count them. One of them was so delicious, though, that we ate the whole pot in only a few days. Yes, we did have it for lunch and dinner some days and then I made another pot as soon as that one was gone! Usually I like making soups that I just throw together with whatever ingredients I have on hand and this was no exception. The Garam Masala, however, I did not have and therefore I had to make it myself out of the spices I had in the cupboard and was short a spice or two but that didn’t seem to matter as the first batch of soup was just as tasty as the second. This soup is easy to make if you prep all the ingredients beforehand, doing all the chopping and measuring first, because once you start adding things to the pot it goes rather quickly. The original recipe was for a Muligatawny soup. I made several changes to fit the ingredients that I did or did not have at the time:

Lentil Soup Ingredients

and I rather think it is a family favorite for us now.

It is a hearty, vegetarian soup with a little bit of spice and coconut flavor to balance it out.

Pot of Lentil Soup

I added some homemade Frikadellen (German version of the meatball) to mine and it was a fantastic combo. The German meatballs you can get here vary so widely depending on where you buy them but making your own is easy and   just as tasty. I love Frikadellen and typically don’t care for the all-beef version of meatballs usually made in the States. In Germany, they are made with “Halb und Halb”, or a mixture of half ground beef and half ground pork.

Cooking Frikadellen

They don’t need to be in a sauce because they are tasty enough to be eaten on their own or traditionally served with a little bit of spicy mustard on the side. I tossed them in my bowl of soup on a whim and found a stunning combination of flavors that won me over.

Red Lentil Soup

adapted from The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2009

2 1/2 tsp garam masala* (see note)

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 1/2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground turmeric

3 tbs butter

2 medium sized onions finely diced

1/2 cup unsweetened** coconut flakes

4 garlic clove chopped finely

4 tsp grated ginger

1 tsp tomato paste

1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour

8 cups vegetable stock

2 carrots finely chopped

2 celery stalks finely chopped

1 cup red lentils (sorted so there are no stones)

opt. cilantro for serving

*You can buy already prepared Garam Masala in the spice section of most food stores or you can make your own like I did. See recipe below.

**Unsweetened coconut flakes or descicated coconut may not be available at most grocery stores. However, it is easy to find at most health food stores or stores like Whole Foods in the U.S.

Prepare all of the vegetables and measure all of the spices before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. As seen above the tomato paste, ginger and garlic are added together so they can be put in the same bowl.  Saute the spices in melted butter over medium heat until fragrant, less than half a minute. Add the onions and coconut and cook until soft about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the ginger garlic and tomato paste and cook for an additional 30 seconds stirring constantly. Add the flour and mix until evenly combined. Gradually add the vegetable stock while stirring. Increase the heat to high and add the carrots, celery and red lentils while stirring. When it comes to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the vegetables and lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.

Garam Masala

adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates

Yields about 3 tablespoons

1/2 tbs ground cinnamon

1 tbs coriander seeds

1/2 tbs ground cumin

1/2 tbs black peppercorns

1/2 tsp cardomom

1/2 tsp whole cloves

Place all the spices in a spice grinder or coffee grinder and grind until powdery. Store in a sealed glass jar and store in a cool, dry place for up to 3 months.


Based on a recipe from Ylvie T.

500 grams Halb und Halb or 1/2 pound lean ground beef and 1/2 pound ground pork

1 shallot or small onion diced finely

1 egg

1 stale Brötchen or bakery roll or 2 slices of high-quality sandwich bread

1 tbs spicy, yellow mustard

3-4 tbs dried parsley seasoning mix* or dried parsley

salt and pepper to taste

Frikadellen Ingredients

*I use a salad seasoning blend that you can buy in Germany called “Salat-Kräuter” which has dried parsley, shallots, dill, chives, onion, pepper, garlic and chervil in it. Alternately, you can use just dried parsley and a pinch of any of the other additional ingredients.

Soak the Brötchen, hard roll or bread in a bowl of water for a few minutes. Put the ground meat in a large bowl with all the other ingredients. Squeeze the roll to get the liquid out and tear into small pieces. Mix everything together with your hands. Form into 3 inch in diameter flattened patties or balls and fry in a pan with hot oil or bake until cooked through.