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Spices for vegetarian lentil soup?

I just made a vegetarian lentil soup and the taste is sorta blah. I used onions, carrots, a potato, a parsnip, garlic, water and green lentils. For spices I used salt, pepper, a bay leaf and cumin, I sweated the onions and garlic in olive oil to start and added the spices before adding other indigents and water.And then simmered for two hours. What additional spices would you suggest? I don't like to add too much salt or red pepper.

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  1. Chipotle powder/chile powder would add a bit of a kick

    I like raw al hanout (a Moroccan spice blend, not hot but flavorful) with lentils. Sometimes a squeeze of citrus or splash of vinegar wakes up a blah soup.

    1. Adding a sprinkle of salt when you sweat the onions and garlic helps to soften and flavor them. But I think you lack some umami elements. Often this means meat, but other possibilities include mushrooms, tomato paste, soy sauce, fish sauce or miso.

      1. A few drops of balsamic vinegar make a huge difference.

        And I use olive oil as a finishing oil, it adds oomph : )

        1 Reply
        1. re: happybaker

          I like the Cooks Illustrated lentil soup recipe. It uses cumin, coriander and a TLB of balsamic vinegar.

          I also have hot sauce available on the table.

        2. I would add in some tomato paste and some cayenne. If you use chicken broth, add some in for flavor. Maybe more salt and cumin too - lentils tend to take a lot of salt.

          1. Not spices per se but instead of just cooking your veggies try roasting them, and roast some garlic while you're at it. And instead of just sautéing your onions use caramelized onions.

            1. Use some curry.

              I use TABASCO® brand Green Jalapeno Pepper Sauce.
              It's excellent when used in soups ... says so right on the box.

              1. I make and keep in my fridge a roasted mirepoix puree (onion, celery, carrot plus garlic which I use to flavor soup, sauces, rice etc. A few heaping tablespoons or more will add tons of flavor to your soup.

                Also, lentils pair well with coconut milk. You could add this even though the soup is already made. Or you can lightly toast, grind and add coconut to it along with cumin and masala seasoning.

                1. We use cider vinegar as a condiment

                  1. I tend towards indian spices with lentil soup. Add curry powder, turmeric, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, etc. in during the onion-sweating stage. After the soup is made, I would add in some anchovy paste and more salt.

                    1. I think your problem is not enough salt.

                      I cook my lentil soup with a habanero pepper which I remove before serving

                      Tomato paste could help, too

                      1. Perhaps your lentils are lacking in flavor? My lentils are never blah, but they taste like lentils, not spices. I start by sautéing a couple of crushed garlic cloves and a whole chile lightly in extra virgin olive oil. Then add a bay leaf and some form of tomato -- puree or crushed -- and let this sauce reduce for a bit. Add salt. Then add the lentils with only enough water to cover. Keep a pot of simmering water on the stove to add as the lentil water cooks away. If you wind up adding a lot, adjust the salt. This should take about 30 minutes for very good lentils, but the timing is very variable. When the lentils are tender, fish out the chile and bay leaf and try to fish out the garlic. Add a couple of generous swirls of extra virgin olive oil and serve. This is not a soup, but could be made soupier with more water.

                        This recipe, which is really good, is for a lentil soup with pasta (from Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way):

                        For the soup:1 pound (450 grams) lentils, washed and picked
                        1 bay leaf
                        at least 1½ level teaspoons salt
                        3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
                        1 white onion, finely chopped
                        2 cloves garlic, chopped
                        2 cups (550 grams) tomato puree
                        1 small piece dried chile

                        Before serving:
                        8 ounces (225 grams) or less pasta
                        2 tablespoons, or more, best-quality extra virgin
                        olive oil for finishing

                        Put the lentils in a 4-quart (4-liter) pot, preferably terracotta, with 6 cups (1.5 liters) water and the bay leaf.
                        Add 1 level teaspoon salt, bring to a boil, then cook, covered, over low heat until tender. The cooking time
                        can range from 20 minutes (for the best-quality tiny Italian lentils) to about 45 minutes, so keep an eye on
                        them and check often. They should be tender but not mushy.
                        Keep a supply of boiling hot lightly salted water available on the stove and add it by the ladleful in the
                        unlikely event your lentils begin to look dry. You can also use the water to make the soup more liquid.
                        Put the oil in a saucepan and add the onion and garlic. sauté gently over low heat until transparent,
                        about 10 minutes. Add the tomato puree, the chile, and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook for 20 minutes, or until the
                        sauce is visibly reduced and the oil comes to the surface. Add this sauce to the lentils. You should have
                        about 8 cups total. Taste for salt.

                        Both recipes are really flavorful with minimal flavorings other than very good Italian (brown) lentils. If I were determined to use spices, I would look at Indian recipes, but I like to taste the lentils.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: mbfant

                          That's alot of EVOO. No wonder your lentil soups never lack for flavor.

                        2. Well, you don't say how much of everything you used so it's a little hard to judge - your proportions may simply be off. But you took a normally bland food (lentils), added more bland (potato and parsnip), and cooked them in bland (water). To counter-act that, you really need to up pretty much everything else, including the salt.

                          To fix what you've got, I'd up the cumin, add some thyme, add in a bit of red pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice or a few dashes of vinegar (apple cider or white).

                          My lentil soup is pretty simple - half veg stock and half water (or all veg stock if I have one fairly low in sodium or homemade), 2/3rd green or brown lentils and 1/3rd red lentils (the red break down faster and create a heartier stew like texture - my guess is similar to what a potato might do). Then I use onion, garlic, celery, carrots, bay leaf, ajwain seed (reportedly used to relieve the after effects of a bean based diet - has a thyme-like flavor if you don't have ajwain), Aleppo pepper (not as hot as crushed red or cayenne with a vinegary undertone - just provides a nice warming sensation at the back of the throat), more cumin than just about any recipe ever calls for, and the juice of half a lemon squeezed in at the end.

                          I would recommend using at least 1/2 veg stock, roasting the vegetables if you are going to use that combination (especially if you stick with water) to develop caramelization and additional flavor, putting in a bit of heat, and a few dashes of something savory/salty (such as Braggs if you want to keep it veg), and lemon or vinegar at the end. With roasting, you also don't need to cook your soup as long, as lentils only take about 40 minutes (20 for red).

                          1. Ras El Hanout is a great addition.

                            I make an Ethiopian-spiced lentil soup. The spices I use are Cardamom, Berbere, Coriander and lots of carmelized onions, sauteed in a Nitr Kibbeh spiced butter. I love Ethiopian food, so I basically took a Doro Wat recipe, and used the sauce as the base for the soup. Then, add the lentils and water as needed, and simmer.

                            I don't have specific amounts, since I just do it to taste. If you like things spicy, add more Berbere. If you can't take the heat, cut back on that. Make sure that your onions are very well carmelized and don't stint on those. I usually use two very large red onions, thinly sliced, and cook them slowly in the butter until they are very dark brown.

                            1. Hi bluplate,

                              Lentils are a daily staple in our Indian home, not necessarily cooked with Indian flavors.

                              May I ask why you are simmering for 2 hours? That kills many flavors and makes things acrid and muddy. Are you at an elevation? Then use a pressure cooker, and aromas and textures will remain brisk and flavors/mouthfeel sapid.

                              A daily staple is the split orange lentils boiled plain with or without a little turmeric until soft, whirred a bit with a hand blender, seasoned with sea salt, and eaten with steaming plain rice, fresh cut green limes [lime rind oils necessary] and a drop of ghee or good butter. This is saadaa vaaran, a type of meal that is the staple of orthodox families all over northern India. Real "Indian" food. Note, no oil, no spices, no onions and garlic!

                              Next, same boiled orange lentils to which you add nigella seeds and bay leaves sizzled in mix of hot butter and vegetable oil. Or cumin seed, nigella seed, or just cumin powder sizzled in butter/oil mix, added to the lentils.

                              Or sweat onion and bay leaf, in pur olive oil [not EVOO] + butter, you can add small quantity of red bell pepper if you care of rth taste or not, or some chopped fresh ginger root, or a tiny thai hot chili pepper for a very subliminal kick, add cumin powder that you already have, and when it smells fragrant, add the boiled, whirred red lentils into the mix. Cover, cook briefly. In the boiled lentils, before whirring, you could have added potatoes, green beans, cauliflowers, etc. Yuou want to keep the veggies whole, and fish them out and just whir the lentils and return them to the pot. Add cilantro, tiny bit, if you care, or not. Always use a bit of lime or lemon to perk up flavors on your plate. That bare hint of heat that cannot be detected also perks up flavor, e.g. a tiny thai chili or a few dashes of tabasco.

                              Wash split orange lentils and drain. Sweat your onions, garlic, bay leaves, as you did, add some chopped red pepper if you want, and/or coarse diced carrot if you wish, and some good quality fresh American style curry powder like Mccormick or Frontier Spice. Add the washed lentils, and cook in the oil for a bit until the orange turns yellow. Add some nice veg.stock, home made or the ones in the paper cartons. Cook covered until the lentils are tender, and it will not be more than 35-40 min at sea level on brisk simmer. Whir with hand blender but leave some veg. chunky. Make an Italian thingie, finely mince Italian parsley, ditto garlic cloves, zest of lemon. Add into hot pot of soup just before serving, and juice the zested lemon into the soup. Serve with toasted bread crouton or whatever you wish. I also like to cube ukes and add to the hot soup to briefly cook. You can vary the base veggies any way you like to change the consistency or flavor. This is a basic lentil soup, so you can add tomato puree, in very small doses, or things that catch your fancy, like chopped plum tomato, parsnip, etc. The exact idea behind your own soup, except you are using orange split lentils that have a lot of umami and far less astringency than whole lentils.

                              Now for whole brown lentils: wash and then cook them in water until just tender in a big pot. Now add a bit of turmeric,salt to taste, chopped green or red bell pepper, chopped plum or any tomato, chopped onion, chopped garlic, minced fresh ginger, fresh powdered cumin, fresh powdered coriander seed, a tiny bit of chopped thai or jalapeno pepper, and simmer just until raw smells gone and nice aromatic smell emerges. Taste to your liking and add chopped fresh cilantro, leaves, stalks, roots, all. Eat with 100% whole wheat tortilla puffed above flame until they balloon, or chapati, plus nice avocado, plus cabot sharp cheddar cheese, cucumbers, fresh lime. Or, rice is also good. BTW, onions, tomato, peppers, garlic, ginger, in the "dal" are in 1 cup qusntities, and the last in 2X Tb quantities, per lb brown lentil; use your taste and cook's sense as guide and suit your own taste. You may or may not like this, but you would have wasted just 1 pkg of lentils and some veggies as a trial.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: GTM

                                >> 'cabot sharp cheddar cheese' <<

                                I have to say that this was a surprising (but welcome) addition. Wow.

                                1. re: Cheese Boy

                                  Slices of Hunter extra sharp Cabot $4/lb on sale in our neck of the woods when we are lucky, on the side, along with the ripe avocado slices, with hot chapati, are my wife's contribution to Indian and American fusion! Very amaing just by itself, and worth making fresh hot chapatis as a real health food! Sometimes we get the Jalapeno Jack Cabot too!! yay!

                                  Halloumi, fried slices, on the side: expensive luxury, but if you find it an occasional treat, that is wonderful.

                                  Paneer slices, ditto.

                                  The avocado and/or cheese should remain constant, as a side to the lentils IHOP! It adds a certain something that lentil soup alone lacks. For vegetarians, especially.

                                  Happy eating, friends.

                                2. re: GTM

                                  I'm overwhelmed by all of the very interesting suggestions I've received in reply to my post and intend to try many of them. Thank you for yours and I wasn't clear that I only added the lentils after most of the vegetable cooking was done and cook them until they were tender.

                                3. I think you probably cooked it too long -- lentils generally take no more than 45 minutes in my experience -- and they really need some acid -- lemon juice or some kind of vinegar -- as others have suggested. I make a lentil soup that has green (supermarket) lentils, tomato paste, onion, garlic and broth and it tastes kind of flat until you add a big squeeze of lemon juice and then it is magic. It is here if you are interested, I omit the cumin and you could use veggie broth. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/lentil-s... I usually add a big handful of baby spinach just before serving.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: GretchenS

                                    Sorry for not being clear. I cook the rest of the ingredients for a long time and then add the lentils towards the end and taste after around 40 minutes and keep tasting until they are to the right state of tenderness.

                                    1. re: BluPlateSpec

                                      Hi BluPlateSpec,

                                      This may be taking you off on a slightly different direction but being faithful to your original idea of remaining vegetarian, low in calories, full of vegetables, and based on healthful, low-glygemic index. I am interpolating the last, as a personal concern. However, I am drawing from an Indian tradition, that may not suit your taste, or may be overly fussy.

                                      Dalma is a "dal" preparation from Odisha, that uses dal, primarily split and hulled pigeon peas, Cajanus cajan. I like to experiment with a mix of split red lentils, yellow split mung beans [lightly dry-roasted in a pan, then washed], split yellow Indian chick peas [very low Glycemic Index & Load], and washed split pigeon peas [called arhar or tuvar dal in Indian groceries]. You could substitute split green peas or just use split red lentils and split chick peas. A bit of baking soda makes the dals soften and "melt" faster.

                                      The vegtables in this case should be added by their order of softening, INTO the cooking dal, which should be covered ( slightly ajar) and at a brisk simmer. What you choose to add is your choice. Perhaps parsnips & carrots togetner or celeriac may not be a good thing, pulling the flavors away towards a Germanic direction. Green beans, Daikon radishes cut in thick sticks, fresh stalks of collards or kale [add leaves a bit later], kohl rabi, rutabaga, many types of true yams and tropical roots, winter melon, acorn squash with skin on, big chunks of cauliflower stalks [the pedicels or flower stalks holding the florets], the middle stems of cabbage cores trimmed of hard parts, fresh moringa drumsticks, tender YOUNG plantains, and so many more things.

                                      Skim the scum of the dals, and add a little turmeric powder. Cook a bit and only now start adding each lot of veggies in turn. Carefully time each veggie to not overcook because you will be adding either just a couple of types, or many, as per your tastes. When they are 3/4 done you will add some good quality powdered asafetida, not something many Western cooks are used to. This is important in Indian vegetarian cooking, where onion and garlic are abjured. There are dalmas where these are used, but I am giving you a pure veg. style.

                                      Next comes grated fresh ginger, into the pot, quite a bit, but use sound judgment!

                                      Then drop in fresh grated coconut, either made yourself, or more conveniently the stuff made by Goya and frozen in flat packets. Available in many ordinary groceries, and thus convenient. There are some Asian brands, that seem to be very expensive.

                                      Next add dark brown sugar, or unsulfured molasses, NOT blackstrap. Even dark maple syrup is excellent. There should be the faintest hint of sweetness.

                                      Seasalt, and should not overpower or fight the sweetness, which is very unpleasant. You fortunately do not like much salt!!

                                      Finally, the tempering. Good Indian cow ghee is the norm here, but clarified butter will do. NOT butter which will turn into hazelnut butter and burn. You heat the ghee until it shimmers but never to smoking point. Add a decent quantity of cumin SEED, so that they can swim around, sizzle and release aroma. Right at the peak moment, before they have the chance to turn from the very light golden to any darker shade, drop the whole shebang into your dal, which should be hot. Cover immediately, simmer for a couple of minutes, serve with a wedge of fresh lime.

                                      This is pure vegetarian food, and authentic, of a general type served in homes where a good number of Indians live. Not the pattern of the stuff served in restaurants.

                                      Do you recognize that it originates from a time before there were chiles, tomatoes, potatoes and such in India? These are the dishes preserved in brahman homes, and regularly eaten and served as votive offerings.

                                      Another very typical dish from Bengal and my favorite, eaten together with bitter, newly emerging fried neem leaves!

                                      Whole green mung beans: you can use a large slow cooker. What goes in are whole vegetables such as [wash well!] bunches of red radish,l leaves and all, bunches of spinach, including roots [a delicacy in Bengal], Chewy stems of flowering radish [e.g. rattail], whole baby eggplant or use oriental eggplant whole [they will shrink], whole baby potatoes like fingerlings. This was a dish meant to help mothers NOT work in the kitchen, so not cutting of anything, which takes hours of work in Bengal, and also some symbolic reasons, not useful to go into here. Our mung beans were slightly different and more sapid than the ones found in Chinese groceries for sprouting, but those will have to do. You can add a knob or two of root ginger, lightly crushed, a cassia leaf or two, or a bay leaf, and later on, seasalt and brown sugar or cane jaggery. The dish makes its own flavor,and is eaten with steaming converted rice, and a drop of hot ghee, or cultured butter, a wedge of lime, plus some bitters, like boiled mashed bitter melon, or neem leaves.

                                      These are some truly authentic dishes of Bengal and neighboring Odisha, using legumes in very healthful ways, chockful of vegetables that include their roots, which are also extremely nutrient-rich.

                                      At the risk of going way off-topic [sincere apologies!], just wanted to offer a glimpse REALLY authentic home cooking from India, using legumes and vegetables. Do you see a pattern: NO OIL, NO SPICE? What do restaurants serve, and some food writers explain to the world?

                                      However, I must commend Ammini Ramachandran's "Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts", one of the finest books on authentic Indian cuisines from the home, and from a particular region and community. Try looking it up. Very, very healthful. I have zero interests here except absolute admiration. This is how real Indian cookbooks should be written, by real, not pseudo, experts.

                                      I can write down literally scores of recipes from the repertore of Rarhi Brahman cooking that will show you a cuisine that does not use much of these for its daily fare. At least the traditional orthodox fare! Just so that you know that I am not cherry picking!

                                      [They WILL taste bland to palates not used to them, though, but ambrosial to those who have grown up with them. It is really funny to read some Indian sites on food and cooking. An Indian expatriate in France complains, the food here tastes of nothing and is not worth eating!!!! He has lived there for years, and has never outgrown his small- town roots!]

                                  2. If I may be so immodest:


                                    for shorbat abas, found all over the Middle East

                                    1. To make the blah soup you have now more interesting to eat a swirl of pesto or romesco sauce ontop when serving will up the flavors

                                        1. You could also add a parmesan cheese rind for some flavor.

                                          1. To dress up your existing soup, take one small clove of garlic finely chopped, 1 t coriander, 1 t cumin, 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, saute for about 5 minutes, in 2 T olive oil until cilantro leaves wilt. Stir in 1 T all purpose flour, mix well until dissolved. Add to your existing, already warmed up soup, simmer for 10 minutes. Add 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice. Serve with additional wedges of fresh lemon.

                                            In the future, baby spinach goes well with lentil soup, added about 45 minutes into the cooking time, which generally should be only 1 to 1 1/4 hours.