It is never a ‘soup season’ here in the coastal tropical city of India where I currently stay. By soup season I am referring to winters of the northern hemisphere; the time when so many families enjoy a bowl of steaming hot soup to comfort themselves and beat the winter chills. The warm weather ensures that we guzzle cool beverages throughout the year. What is interesting however is that dal or dhal, which most Indians here have every day, is referred to as ‘lentil soup’ by the West. By that standard, I have soup virtually every day…365 days a year!
Now, dal is essentially a part of the main course and not something that is consumed before a meal. For a regular Indian family, dal is like a side dish or an accompaniment to every meal that is savored with either rice or roti (thinly rolled Indian flat bread that is cooked on a tawa or skillet over a gas stove).
This soup, however, won’t pair well with roti or rice. This is to be enjoyed with bread sticks or sliced crusty bread and interestingly, pairs beautifully with this biscotti (I leave out the rosemary).
For the soup you would need:
2 cup fox nuts
¼ tsp ghee (optional, for toasting)
4 cups water
1 inch knob of ginger (bruised slightly, using a pestle)
1 big green chili (mine was medium hot)
½ tsp crushed red pepper corns or black pepper
Salt to taste
1 tsp (+/-) ghee* or any nutty oil of your choice
A very small pinch of asafoetida
1 tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp ivory lentils (urad dal)
½ tsp split Bengal grams (chana dal)
A few sage leaves or curry leaves
To make the soup, toast the fox nuts in ghee (the fox nuts toast well without ghee too) as explained here sans the pepper and salt
Fill a pot with water and pop in the ginger and whole green chili. Bring the water to a boil.
Meanwhile, crush the fox nuts with a rolling pin or in a grinder so that some are finely powdered and others are coarsely ground. Once the water begins to boil, add the crushed fox nuts. Stir and cook on high for 2-3 minutes and then reduce the flame to medium and cook approx 25-30 minutes or till the water attains a creamy consistency and the nuts are well cooked. (The water will be reduced to nearly three cups) Remove from heat and cover the pot to cool slightly. (Scoop out the green chili & ginger.) Blitz the soup in a liquidizer to attain a purée like consistency.
Season the soup with salt and pepper & stir it well. Heat the soup again and bring the consistency of the soup to your desired thickness by adding more water or milk (if you want it slightly rich) or simmering it down if you find it thin.
Since the tempering process happens real quick, I would advise here that you keep all the ingredients of the tempering ready.
Heat a small frying pan and reduce heat to minimum. Add ghee and then the asafoetida immediately along with it. Tip in the mustard seeds. The seeds will crackle and splutter. (I usually cover the pan till the crackling sound stops). Now add the lentils and sage leaves. Fry till the lentils attain golden brown colour. Remove from the heat and keep the pan aside.
Pour the hot soup in bowls or mugs and spoon some of the tempering over each bowl/mug and serve with bread or biscotti.
*Ghee is the Indian name for brown butter or beurre noisette
Note: Feel free to use black pepper corns instead of red pepper corns. (I used them just not for their taste but also for their dramatic red colour.)
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