Fragrant Lentil Rice Soup with Spinach and Caramelized Onions (aka Dal Bhat Meets Mujaddara)
I mean, I can finally express myself in sentences!
Sorry for the blog auto-pilot for the last 3 weeks… After 2 glorious weeks in Colombia, it was back to the grind, off to work, sifting through oodles of emails, comments and catching up with my favourite blogs.
My second language is French and let’s just say three weeks ago, I knew zero Spanish.
We made sure we had the basics though:
Vegetariana estricta Vegan
But that might not mean anything, so we had to explain:
Without eggs (Really?)
Without milk (I usually had a funny look at this point)
We usually stopped there, but I also knew how to say:
We got better at explaining what I wanted:
Frutas (fruit!), verdura (vegetables), beans (frijoles), papas (potatoes) and arroz (rice).
other than baños (bathroom), another useful word was aqui (here)
As we learned more about Colombia (Que?), we became a bit more sophisticated and tried to make actual sentences.
Cuánto cuesta? How much does it cost?
Quero jugos naturales en agua sin azucar: I want freshly squeezed juice in water without added sugar!
By the end of our trip, a guide was teaching us the difference between Mucho bueno and Muy bien depending on the context of the sentence. And to greet other friendly men with Compa! and friendly women with Coma!
In any case, I loved my culinary adventures in Colombia, and we planned it so that I could stay vegan throughout the trip. I had to make a few compromises, and that was by eating white rice (brown rice and quinoa are essentially non-existent in Colombia) and I had more fried foods than I had in the last 3 years (fried plantains and yucca mainly if nothing else was available). But it was ok. That’s what vacations are for.
Now that I am back in my own kitchen, I can return to normal. Pull out some freezer meals. Forge ahead with some comforting pantry-friendly meals. Rob repeats recipes and sometimes I do, too. This is one of those dishes. Uber comforting. While I describe this as Dal Bhat meets Mujaddara, this would likely scare off a bunch of people… Too many foreign words thrown in there… But if I call it Fragrant Lentil Rice Soup with Spinach and Crispy Onions, it is much more approachable, and still true to its name.
This comforting dish comes from Melissa Clark’s cookbook, Cook This Now. Savoury spices like cinnamon, cumin, allspice and ginger are combined with creamy red lentils and brown rice (aka dal bhat). Since the spices are aromatized at the beginning of the soup, they don’t pop with as much oomph as dal bhat, instead they are more mellow. This is a thick soup, with both lentils and rice simmered together, creating an utterly creamy consistency. In mujaddara, the rice and (green) lentils absorb all the water so they are dry, but still fragrant depending on the spices you use. However, the crowning glory of mujaddara are the caramelized onions. Here, onions are caramelized in parallel so that after an hour, you have dark and deeply sweet onions to go with your just finished lentil rice soup. Thus, simple fusion at its finest. Familiar, yet just a subtle twist to both recipes to keep you interested and excited… and a dish I know I can eat again and again.
And it is just so nice to be able to tell you all this in complete sentences. Freedom!
Fragrant Lentil Rice Soup with Spinach and Crispy Onions (aka Dal Bhat Meets Mujaddara)
Adapted from Cook This Now
3 medium onions, very thinly sliced
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground allspice (1 berry, ground)
2 bay leaves
6 cups vegetable stock (I use more like 2 cups stock and 4 cups water)
1/2 cup brown medium-grain rice
1 tsp salt, more to your taste
1.5 cups red lentils, rinsed and drained
4 cups (5 oz) baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped (optional, I usually omit it)
Fresh lime juice, to taste
1. Begin by caramelizing your onions. Heat a large non-stick frying pan over high heat, adding the onion and sauté, stirring all the while, over a high heat for about a minute. Sprinkle with salt. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking the onions for another 45 minutes, stirring them occasionally. You want them dark and caramelized.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the ginger, garlic, cinnamon stick, cumin, allspice, and bay leaves, and cook until the mixture is fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the stock, the rice, and the salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately reduce the flame to medium-low and let the rice simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the red lentils and cook until the rice is tender and the lentils are meltingly soft, about 30 minutes. Add more water if you feel it is too thick (Melissa suggests another 3 cups of water but I never add that).
3. Once the lentils are soft and the rice cooked through, stir in the spinach, cover and let it wilt completely. Taste, and add more salt if necessary. If desired, squeeze in fresh lime juice.
4. To serve, ladle the soup into serving bowls and top with a small handful of crispy onions.