Coconut Two Lentil Soup

Astronomers travel a lot.  Even if you ignore the frequent trips to telescopes half-way around the world, there is always a conference or two in some tempting location.  Perhaps there should be a disclaimer for astronomy graduate students: if you don’t like travel, you might consider a different profession.  Sure, you can get away with only one trip or two a year in grad school (or even less in the first few years), but if my adviser’s schedule is any indication, you could easily find yourself traveling almost every week, at least during quarters when you don’t have to teach.  Fortunately this was more of a pleasant surprise in my case, especially when I realized it was completely normal to take vacation time in said exotic location before returning back to work.  This time it was Hawaii for observing.  Unfortunately the observing part didn’t work out too well as there was an ice and snow storm on the mountain when we arrived.  Fortunately, however, I was traveling with someone who knows how to have a good time (swimming, snorkeling, hiking, you get the picture) and our subsequent vacation made the long plane rides worth it.  In the near future I will post plenty of details of my trip to Hawaii, but in the mean time, here is the result of my recent obsession with coconut (did you know they make coconut syrup in Hawaii to eat on pancakes???).

This soup is inspired by a recipe from 101 Cookbooks for Coconut Red Lentil Soup.  After eating in restaurants for an entire week, I was desperate to get back to the kitchen, but lacking inspiration; it’s hard to both be content with eating restaurant food and reading food blogs.  My initial intention was to follow this recipe to the letter, having had good results with past recipes from Heidi Swanson, but eating from one’s garden is a lesson in inventiveness (that and not having a fully-stocked pantry), so there were a couple serious substitutions that I will outline below.  One other thing to note is that I made homemade curry powder for this recipe that knocked my socks off.  After toasting the spices I stood in the kitchen just smelling it in an olfactory trance.  Peter can tell you all about it, because I shoved it in front of his nose too.

Coconut Two Lentil Soup (adapted from Coconut Red Lentil Soup)
1 cup red lentils
1 cup brown lentils
7 cups water
2 small purple-top turnips, diced
1 medium red beet, diced
2 tablespoons curry powder (see recipe here)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons butter
4 green onions, finely chopped
1/3 cups raisins (I used large plump purple ones from the farmer’s market)
1 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 14 ounce can coconut milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cups cilantro, roughly chopped

Rinse the lentils well and mix with the water in a soup pot and bring to a boil.  Add the diced turnips and beet, and let the soup simmer for 20-30 minutes as you do the rest of the stuff.  Make the curry powder and then toast it in a small dry sauce pan just until wonderfully fragrant.  Be careful not to let the curry powder burn!  Set the curry powder aside with the ground ginger.  Melt the butter in the sauce pan and then add the green onions and raisins, cooking for 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes to the butter/onions and cook for another two minutes.  Add the curry powder and ground ginger to the butter/onions/tomatoes and mix well, then add it to the lentils that have been simmering.  Finally, add the coconut milk and salt to the lentils and let simmer a couple more minutes until the lentils are soft.  Add more water if you would like a soupier consistency.  Serve the cilantro on top.

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