This afternoon, I did the Christmas cookie deliveries on foot. I wore ski goggles, and my snow pants, and I'm pretty sure our friend Bob now thinks I'm crazy, but I have to say, it was wonderful out there.
It was also wonderful to come home and take a hot shower and untangle the icicles from my hair. After I did that, Alex and I made another batch of eggnog involving nine cups of Jim Beam, nine cups of milk, and three dozen eggs. That was pretty great too. Now, I'm sitting on the couch next to our tiny balsam tree, watching the fire roar and drinking a beer.
Pretty soon it will be time for dinner—a bowl of James Peterson's red lentil, coconut milk, and garam masala soup with the addition of some sautéed fennel. I don't always like fennel on its own—it's pretty sweet, and it smells way too much like black licorish to be eaten on its own—but in small doses, and cooked down, I think it's excellent. It goes especially well with the spices in this particular garam masala—saffron and turmeric and nutmeg and cinnamon and cardamom and cloves with a little bit of black pepper mixed in. Also, the recipe says you can choose either yogurt or coconut milk as a thickener, but I used half and half, and I think it was the best of both worlds.
You've probably already started cooking, but in case you haven't, I wanted to let you know. Because between the looming holidays, and the requisite bustling, and the perfect silence of the snow, it's just the kind of easy-healthy-good thing you might want to have on the stove.
RED LENTIL SOUP WITH COCONUT MILK, YOGURT, & GARAM MASALA
There aren't so many local ingredients in this soup, but I'm okay with that in ethnic recipes, so long as the basics are from around here. If you're running low, check out the latest news from Buy Fresh Buy Local Cape Cod—there are still several farm stands going strong.
If you don't have fennel, feel free to play around with other vegetables. The original recipe—which comes from the book Splendid Soups by James Peterson—says that in India this soup is often used as a base for a vegetable stew. I think crushed tomatoes would make a nice addition.
[Update, 8pm: Alex had the idea to serve this as daal rather than a soup, and it was a good one. He cooked up a batch of small potatoes, drained them, smashed them with a fork, and poured the soup over top. Yum!]
1 medium-size onion, diced
1 medium-size fennel bulb, diced (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup red lentils
3 cups water
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, soaked for 15 minutes in 1 tablespoon warm water
1 cup coconut milk or yogurt, or half and half
salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter
Sauté the onion, fennel, garlic, thyme, and turmeric in the olive oil over medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes, or until the onions and fennel are tender. Stir in the lentils and the water, bring to a boil, and cover. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
Stir in the saffron with the water it soaked in along with the coconut milk and/or yogurt. Season with salt to taste. Turn the heat up to medium and bring the soup back to a boil.
In the meantime, sauté the remaining spices in the butter until fragrant. Stir this mixture into the hot soup, and serve at once.