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How to Feel Chic While Eating Lentil Soup

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Today: Let Heidi Swanson teach you how to liven up an otherwise drab soup, and your life will follow. 

I know which women in food I’d pick to join a girlband and embark on the greatest world tour of all time: Melissa Clark for her poise in front of the camera; Dorie Greenspan for her kindness and finesse; Deb Perelman for her uninhibited use of cheese and chocolate (not at the same time, though if she told me to, I would); Gabrielle Hamilton for her brash, fearless creativity (she’d be on drums); Zoe Nathan for her muffins; and Heidi Swanson -- for her inimitable balance of aloofness and accessibility -- she would be the lead singer, or a very visible bass guitarist.

Seven months ago -- before I understood what I’d really be able to motivate myself to do on Saturdays (that is, nothing), the convenience of eating a dinner of trail mix and dry cereal, or that New York is not in the same galaxy as Northern California -- Heidi Swanson was who I imagined as my adult self. I could make soup on the weekends to pack in prim containers for weekday lunches. I could learn how to wrap spring rolls without all of the innards coming undone and to enjoy desserts that aren’t “too sweet.” I could have “casual, coastal overnights” (if Brooklyn counts). I could replace the dust bunnies in my apartment with tasteful flowers. I could be reserved yet kind. I could be blonde. 

For me, browsing Heidi’s site has always been like venturing into a clothing store that is painfully well-curated but just beyond my budget; I want to buy the hand-knit, 100%-Alpaca fingerless gloves in the same way I want to make Green Curry Porridge instead of instant oatmeal. 

This lentil soup is like the rare treasure on the sale rack that’s both feasible and flattering. Like so many of my favorite Heidi recipes, this one is appealing because the ingredients are ordinary but the final result is exotic. You will not have to go to the farmers market (which, for all you know, is closed due to inclement weather) or source ingredients from the internet. The soup is founded on run-of-the-mill green lentils made creamy with coconut milk. The spice comes from a technique used to make Indian dal called “tadka,” in which, at the last moment, the lentils are flavored and fattened with ghee-fried spices and herbs. Here, the finished soup gets swirled and swooped with curry powder that has released its fragrance in a warm bath of brown butter. A soup that was once dull and drab and, you thought, irrevocably brown, is now chic -- more so if you pan-fry paneer in a tablespoon or two of ghee or coconut oil and use it as a garnish. Without even realizing what you’ve done, you’ll come away with a lentil soup that you won’t have to motivate yourself to finish.

You could try either replacing or enhancing the curry powder with ground spices like cumin, cayenne, and coriander and minced chile pepper and garlic. Or you could trust in Heidi’s way and put your creativity on pause. Whatever you do, be confident that your soup is umpteenth times better than what you’d otherwise be eating for dinner. Just don’t invite too many people to eat it with you -- you’ll want to save it in the refrigerator for the coming days. Perhaps you’ll store it in yellowed tupperware rather than pristine glass containers, but I won’t judge you: We can’t all be Heidi all the time. 

Heidi Swanson's Green Lentil Soup with Curried Brown Butter

From Super Natural Every Day (Ten Speed 2011) 

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons butter, ghee, or coconut oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 1/2 cups good-tasting vegetable broth or water
1 1/2 cups green lentils or green split peas, picked over and rinsed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Indian curry powder
1/2 cup coconut milk
Fine sea salt
Small cubes paneer, pan-fried in ghee or coconut oil, for garnish (optional)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Bobbi Lin

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Tags: Soup, Bean, Legume, Lentil, Weeknight Cooking, Vegetarian, Long Reads, Editors' Picks