Vegan: Coconut Lentil Soup with Cilantro-Habanero Gremolata
Note: For the four weeks between January 14th and February 11th, I'm adopting a completely vegan lifestyle. Every weekday I'll be updating my progress with a diary entry and a recipe. For past posts, check here!
If you asked me where this recipe came from, I really couldn't tell you. It starts with a traditional French mirepoix base of onions, carrots, and celery cooked down in extra virgin olive oil, but then gets a bare hint of flavors with a curry bent—ginger, garlic, hot chili, a touch of coriander and cumin and a jar of coconut milk. Brown lentils form the base, and it's important to cook them until they're soft—I mean really soft. Soft enough that they melt into the soup on their own.
In the recipe, I suggest simmering it for an hour or so. In real life, I simmered mine for an hour late at night, then got too sleepy to bother waiting for it to cool so I could pack it up and put it away.
Instead, I decided to leave it on the small back burner set on the lowest heat setting overnight (you could do the same with a slow cooker if you're scared of fires and stuff). By morning the lentils had broken down into a rich, hearty broth with just a touch of bite left to them. Delicious.
A handful of cilantro leaves and a big glug of fresh squeezed lime juice are no-brainers for an Indian-ish dish, but moving on in this hodgepodge of weirdness, a tablespoon of soy sauce adds some meaty depth and a big dash of Frank's Hot Sauce ties things together nicely. To be perfectly frank (see what I did there?), it's one of my go-to secret ingredients. I add it to soups, sauces, chili, vinaigrettes, all kinds of things for a bit of extra body, kick, and acidity. (Yes, I put that sh*t in everything,™ and they don't even pay me to say it! Frank's execs: are you listening? Lucrative endorsement deal opportunity right this way!)
You can eat the soup as is, but if you want to fancypants it up a little bit, make the accompanying gremolata as well.
Gremolata, a chopped herb-based condiment traditionally served with osso buco alla milanese, is usually made with parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. For this version, I swap out the parsley for cilantro, the lemon zest for orange, and add some chopped ginger and habanero pepper along with the garlic. It's spicy, fragrant, and aromatic, and turns a run-of-the-mill wacky lentil soup into something downright fancy tasting.
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.