Aug 042013

Desert lime lentil soup

As someone who likes to be able to cook on a moment’s notice, I believe in having a stocked pantry. This is great in principle until I get stricken with “OOH shiny!” syndrome at the grocery store. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it: you’re browsing the aisles and then you come across some item or ingredient that sounds unusual but delicious and even though you don’t have something immediate in mind that you’d like to do with it, you bring it home with you. Repeat this over the course of a couple of months and before you know it your pantry bears a disturbing resemblance to a curio cabinet.

I recently found myself in such a pickle, seeing as how I live near some pretty cool grocery stores and I also have less time to experiment in the kitchen than I used to. Before I knew it, I found myself elbow-deep in the pantry, pulling out ingredients, determined to re-organize that sucker. (Yeah, it’s still a work in progress. The kitchen and the baby have yet to figure out a custody schedule for me.)

One of the most disastrous shelves in my pantry is the chocolate & tea area. The chocolate is in a border skirmish with the tea, as both have spilled out of neat little piles and are encroaching on the other’s territory. There’s a huge mix of chocolate that I bought before Leah was diagnosed with her allergies and I thus can’t eat anymore and chocolate that is really more vegetable than candy, since it’s like 90% cacao. It’s also almost the only chocolate I can find without soy lecithin in it. So it was pretty easy to re-organize that stuff into a His & Her piles, ta-da, done. Time to start negotiations with the other side!

The tea side is a bit trickier because tea comes in big boxes and the size of the box doesn’t decrease as you use the bags within. I consolidated a few boxes, threw out some tea that was by all rights fossilized, and then started making massive quantities of cold-brewed tea to kill off some of the dwindling boxes. Then, deep within the recesses of the little food-closet, I found this box of lime tea that I had bought way back when I lived in Tucson. It wasn’t really my favorite tea to drink, which is why it was still hanging around all this time, so I really didn’t fancy drinking it. I opened the box to count the remaining bags so I could rationalize throwing it away or something, but then I found a recipe — for soup of all things — on the inside flap.

And see, this is where having a stocked pantry comes in handy. The soup called exclusively for pantry staples (hooray!) so I decided to give it a shot. If it sucked, then it wouldn’t be a huge loss, because lo, rice and lentils, they are cheap. I made several modifications, opting to go pilaf-style to maximize flavor out of the relatively meager ingredients, but I have to admit, I was expecting disaster. Much to my surprise though, this was actually pretty tasty! Rice and lentils aren’t exactly the most exciting combination in the world, but the lime goes a long way towards brightening up the tried-and-true pairing. Now I find myself kind of sad that I don’t have enough tea-bags left to make another batch of this stuff, so will I find myself buying another box of it? Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose (cleaning out the pantry) of making this in the first place? Has that ever stopped me before? Nah, didn’t think so.

Desert lime lentil soup

Desert Lime Lentil Soup
Adapted from a recipe on the inside of a box of tea
Serves 8


  • I really wanted to add curry powder to this soup, for some reason. I resisted adding it to the whole pot but tried a pinch in a bite I took and was really glad I omitted it. The cumin does just fine on its own.
  • I have filed this under “middle eastern” because the tea used is made from Arabian limes, but I really have no idea of the soup’s provenance. Please let me know if you know any better than I.

You will need:

  • 1 teaspoon cumin, whole or ground
  • 2 tablespoons oil (I used refined coconut)
  • 2 small or medium onions, halved pole-to-pole and sliced thinly
  • 1 cup red lentils, picked through and washed
  • 1 cup whole-grain rice, preferably a red or black variety
  • Salt, to taste
  • 4 cups water, divided
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 4 bags lime tea (I used Numi Dry Desert Lime, which contains only limes: no other tea or herbs here, if you’re trying to make a substitution) OR 3/4-cup freshly-squeezed lime juice plus grated zest from the limes plus 1/4-cup water
  • Juice of half a lime
  • 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro leaves
  • Ground pepper, to taste

To prepare:

  1. If using whole cumin, roast the seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until slightly darkened and very aromatic. Let the seeds cool, then grind finely.
  2. In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Place the cumin in the pot and let the spice bloom in the fat — it will become aromatic once more. Add the onions, lentils, rice, and salt and let everything saute together, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add three cups of water and two cups of stock and bring to a simmer, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the rice is mostly cooked but still has a bit of toothiness, about 25 minutes, stirring a couple of times during cooking. There will still be a lot of liquid left, as this is a soup, not a pilaf.
  3. While the soup is simmering, bring the remaining cup of water to a boil and add the tea bags (if using lime juice instead of tea, skip this step). Turn off the heat and let steep.
  4. When the soup is done simmering, you may want to bring the heat up to boil the soup and reduce it down a bit. Go for it: you’ll be adding another cup of liquid to the soup before serving it, so reduce down a bit more than you would otherwise. If you like, you can also use an immersion blender to thicken the soup a bit (I recommend it).
  5. When the soup has achieved the desired volume and texture, stir in the tea (or fresh lime juice, zest, and water) and cilantro. Adjust seasonings, adding fresh lime juice if desired. Serve.

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