How to Feel Chic While Eating Lentil Soup

February 18, 2015

If you're like us, you look to the seasons for what to cook. Get to the market, and we'll show you what to do with your haul.

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

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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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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sharon Hanna
    Sharon Hanna
  • Kerry
  • I_Fortuna
  • chocolateandvegetables
  • Allison M. Floyd
    Allison M. Floyd
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Sharon H. September 30, 2015
I'm looking for 16 soup recipes as the email indicated?? Can't seem to get to that page. But I will try this lentil soup ;-)
Kerry September 28, 2015
Such a fun article to read! You may be eating trail mix and dry cereal for dinner, but your writing is killing it.
I_Fortuna September 28, 2015
Great recipe, however, I recommend using asafoetida instead of garlic. This is the ingredient that really gives Indian food its delicious Indian flavor along with many other spices. : )
chocolateandvegetables September 28, 2015
I use this curry and brown butter combination for garnishing all sorts of soups now. One addition I like to make is to add a couple tablespoons of chopped walnuts to the butter and let them toast in it for a few moments.
Allison M. March 21, 2015
This is hilarious, and so spot-on!
sproutedkitchen March 19, 2015
beautiful and a joy to read. I regret I haven't tried this yet but will soon. Sounds excellent and I am also a fan of everyone in your band :)
LauriL February 25, 2015
Entertaining words! I will try this sooner than later!
carol C. February 22, 2015
I am so proud that I know all the members of your band except Zoe Nathan who I will learn about. Heidi's recipes are always lovely I can'twait to try this.
PS I would be your roadie.
Sarah J. February 23, 2015
I'll save you a spot!
food52fan February 22, 2015
This soup looks delicious and easy to put together at the same time! I think I just found my Oscar night dinner!
Sarah J. February 23, 2015
Hope you enjoyed this!
Cynthia C. February 19, 2015
This lentil soup is chic, but your writing has my heart. I love this!
Dianecpa February 19, 2015
I read her blogs just to get glimpses of the rest of her life!
Catherine L. February 18, 2015
I'll be a band-aid.
Rachel C. February 18, 2015
can i please audition for triangle-player in this band?
Kenzi W. February 18, 2015
I'm stress-eating a bowl of this right now while Pigletting, and even NOW I feel chic. This soup is the best soup.
Ali S. February 18, 2015
Those swirls of curried brown butter are the chicest.