Soup Technique

I made a recipe I haven’t used in years last night and was reminded of a good broth technique for vegetarian soups.

When I was about 20, I received Yamuna Devi’s book Lord Krishna’s Cuisine. It was my go-to cookbook for years, as I made my way through it, learning what urad badis were and how to combine spices and make homemade milk fudge. My copy reflects all of that. It’s yellowed and turmeric-stained and a little wavy on some pages from wet fingers repeatedly turning from the first page of a recipe to the second.

Many of the recipes have copious notes from my first attempts in the margins. I made this on January 10, 1996. I’ve written around the illustration of the spine being sliced off a cabbage leaf that there was a huge snowstorm the night before – about 2 feet of snow was on my car that morning.

This is a fine winter-ingredients soup – cabbage, carrots, nothing unusual there. However, what sets it apart is its approach to creating the broth.

Broth can be an issue in vegetarian soups, and that’s where this recipe shines. Chicken or beef stock is a quick way to create flavor in non-veg soups. For herbivores, there’s always the option of vegetable bouillon – I love this stuff from Organic Gourmet, as the paste form feels more flexible to me – and somehow more foodlike – than a pre-measured bouillon cube. The problem with always relying on bouillon is that all your soups tend to come out tasting the same.

In this recipe, split lentils and coriander seeds are covered with boiling water and allowed to steep for an hour, then ground until smooth in a food processor. Aromatics are added later in the process. This creates a smooth, creamy-textured, lightly spiced broth without the soup becoming overtly a lentil soup. It’s wonderfully delicate and flavorful.

The dal called for by the recipe is toovar dal, also spelled as tuvar dal or toor dal. They’re yellow split peas, basically. Devi suggests substituting moong dal for variety; I used the moong dal pictured above.

Sweet and Sour Broth with Cabbage and Carrots

3 T. toovar or moong dal, washed
1 ½ T. coriander seeds
1 c. boiling water
½ in. piece of fresh ginger root, scraped and cut into thin julienne
4 c. water
3 T. ghee or oil
¼ t. caraway seeds (I omit these, as I cannot abide the flavor of caraway)
½ t. cumin seeds
½ t. black mustard seeds
6-8 curry leaves
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small green cabbage (about 1 lb.), cored and finely shredded (be sure to cut it to manageable lengths for eating with a spoon)
4 medium-sized carrots (I’ve increased that from the original recipe’s 2), peeled and sliced on the diagonal into rounds 1/8 in. thick
3 T. chopped cilantro or parsley
3 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. jaggery (Indian brown sugar) or maple syrup (brown sugar will work fine here)
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste

Place the dal and coriander seeds in a bowl. Pour over the boiling water and set aside for one hour. (In the meantime, you can prep and cook the vegetables, below.)

Combine the soaked beans and coriander seeds, soaking water and ginger in a blender or food processor, cover and process until smooth. Transfer to a 3-quart saucepan, add 2 cups of water and boil over moderate heat until the liquid is reduced by half, to 1 ½ c.

(The original recipe suggests you strain the broth here, but I’ve not found it necessary if you’ve given the lentils and coriander husks plenty of time to get pureed. If you are fussy about the occasional coriander husk, by all means go ahead and strain.)

Place the ghee or oil in a 4-quart saucepan over moderately high heat. When it is hot but not smoking, add the caraway seeds (optional), cumin sees and black mustard seeds, and fry until the mustard seeds turn gray, sputter and pop. Drop in the curry leaves and fry for a few seconds, then add the onion and sauté until translucent and lightly browned. Add the cabbage and carrots and sauté until the cabbage is wilted and soft but not brown.

Pour in the dal broth, an additional 2-4 c. of water (the original calls for four, which seems like too much to me), half of the fresh herb, and salt to taste. Cover, lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Before serving, add the lemon juice, sugar or maple syrup, and black pepper. Ladle into cups or bowls, and garnish with the remaining minced herb.

Makes 6 servings.

2 thoughts on “Soup Technique

    1. Thanks for noticing the omission – I have fixed it. You’re correct that she doesn’t use onion or garlic. I have usually made her recipes without it the first time I try them, then try making them with onion and garlic, to decide which version I like better.

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