Crescent Dragonwagon’s Red Lentil Soup

Once upon a time, I met a woman named Crescent Dragonwagon.

She told me about Caldo Verde and Marrakesh Melange and a beautiful Rose of Persia Cake.

Sounds like a fairy tale?

Well, my “once upon a time” was just a couple of weeks ago, I did meet Crescent at the North End, and while those recipes all sound too exotic and intimidating, they are not – because they are bound by the versatile, economical, beloved bean.

(And yes, her name really is Crescent Dragonwagon.)

I was part of the Boston Brunchers crew that met with the ever-charming, prolific, James Beard Award-winning author, who talked to us about her latest cookbook Bean by Bean.

While I’m already a big fan of beans (I enjoy beans in both savory and sweet dishes), I admit that my experience with beans are limited to the canned kind. Unless we count peanut butter (remember that the peanut is a legume!) then I have plenty of experience with that.

I received a copy of Bean by Bean in advance and I bookmarked several recipes already, but the first one I tried was a simple, no-nonsense, hearty recipe for Syrian-Style Red Lentil Soup.

I’ve had lentil soup before but have never made it myself at home. I am somehow intimidated by Middle Eastern recipes, but Bean by Bean (and Crescent’s easy-going, engaging personality) eased my anxiety. The dish is also called “Shawrbat Addas” which initially made me think that I might need to buy the ingredients at some obscure exotic market…

… but of course my friendly neighborhood Whole Foods had everything I need, starting with these lovely salmon-colored lentils.

I love the bright colors, and I was expecting a bright orange soup, too (I told you I’m a lentil newbie) but I’m glad I read the whole recipe and the introduction, because then I learned that red lentils become “a duller but still-appealing golden-yellow color” after cooking.

Sure enough, my soup ended up a dark yellow, although I wouldn’t say that there’s anything dull about it.

I asked Crescent if I can share the recipe with you guys and she answered with “absolutely, babe!” so here you go:

Yield: serves 4-6

Syrian-Style Red Lentil Soup with Onions and Herbs

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups slit red lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
vegetable oil cooking spray
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 to 3 cloves garlic (more or less to taste), finely minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup finely minced fresh parsley
1/2 cup finely minced fresh cilantro
lemon wedges, for serving
extra-virgin olive oil, for serving

Directions

  1. Put the lentils in a large soup pot. Add 10 cups water. Bring the lentils and water to a full boil, then turn down the heat to medium-low and cover partially. Let simmer, giving the occasional stir, until the lentils are a mushy, medium-thick uniform potage, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add salt and stir well. Continue to simmer over low heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally to keep the lentils warm while you finish the soup.
  2. Spray a heavy skillet with vegetable oil (or use a nonstick skillet), and place it over medium heat, Add the olive oil and, when it is hot, add the onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion as softened and is translucent but not browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Then lower the heat slightly and add the garlic, cumin, and coriander. cook about 30 seconds (make sure not to cook the garlic over high heat; it burns easily). Remove from the heat and stir gently into the simmering lentils.
  3. Dissolved the flour in 1/4 cup water and stir it, too, into the soup. Simmer, stirring often, until the soup loses any raw flour taste, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the fresh herbs, if using, and simmer until they wilt, about 5 minutes more.
  4. Serve hot, passing the lemon wedges and additional olive oil at the table so each diner can modify his or her bowl.

I did make a few slight changes when I made this soup: I added 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder (you know I like heat), I omitted the flour (I thought it was already thick enough as is), and after squeezing some lemon juice onto the bowls, I topped the soup with a dollop of nonfat Greek yogurt, fresh ground black pepper, and a shake of dried parsley flakes.

recipe by Crescent Dragonwagon, in Bean by Bean
(printed with permission)

I had lunch with Crescent at Ducali Pizza, a great little find in the North End (the lunch was provided for free, courtesy of Boston Brunchers). Ducali is closer to TD Garden than all the other restaurants in Little Italy, which means I will be getting pizza next time I go to a Celtics game or a concert.

My favorite was the Rugola pizza: mozzarella with arugula, drizzled with truffle oil, and topped with shards of Parmiggiano Reggiano.

It was Crescent’s favorite too. I should’ve known she was a woman after my own heart.  (When I asked her to autograph my copy of the cookbook, she signed off with “… to sweetness and abundance!”)

And judging by how much I liked her red lentil soup, I’m going to be cooking and tasting a lot more of her recipes, too.

Do you ever cook with lentils? What’s your favorite bean recipe?

   

29 Responses to “Crescent Dragonwagon’s Red Lentil Soup”

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    1
    Claire @ Live and Love to Eat posted March 7, 2012 at 9:29 am

    That looks so delicious! I love lentils in lots of different ways – as a ground meat substitute in a “lentil loaf”, as a base for veggie burgers, and in soup.

    • Bianca Garcia replied March 7th, 2012 at 11:01 am

      Thanks Claire! I will be trying more lentil recipes for sure – lentil loaf sounds great!

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    Beth @Sailing Foodie posted March 7, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Bianca, that looks delicious! Cannot wait to try it out! (now I must go find this cookbook since I am obsessed with all things beans when cooking)

    • Bianca Garcia replied March 7th, 2012 at 11:02 am

      I can lend you my copy :)
      PS – congrats on the Globe feature! xo

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    3
    Kathryn posted March 7, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Oh this soup sounds so delicious! I need to get more lentils into my diet and this looks like such a great way.

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    Alaina posted March 7, 2012 at 9:52 am

    That pizza looks devine! :-)

    I’ve attempted to make patty’s out of beans, but I would love to try that with black beans. My husband hates beans so it’s hard to make a dinner with them. But that just means more for me!

    • Bianca Garcia replied March 7th, 2012 at 11:03 am

      I actually have a mild allergy to black beans (but I tend to ignore it and just pop a Claritin hehe) and I haven’t had black bean soup in so long! Now you are making me crave it – maybe I can have some for lunch later…

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    Elizabeth posted March 7, 2012 at 10:10 am

    I haven’t made any of the recipes but I will definitely make this one, I love red lentils.

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    Colleen @ Culinary Colleen posted March 7, 2012 at 10:33 am

    I cook with a lot of dried beans, but for some reason I’m scared of dried lentils. I’m glad to see they’re so easy to make! Thanks for sharing the recipe.

    • Bianca Garcia replied March 7th, 2012 at 11:04 am

      Hi Colleen, I was definitely scared of dried lentils too, before this! Now I can’t wait to cook more lentil-based recipes.

  7. #
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    Heather posted March 7, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Love red lentil soup, have been on the lookout for a recipe for it. There’s a restaurant I go to for lunch on occasion that has the best red lentil soup.

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    Emily @ A Cambridge Story posted March 7, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    The author’s name is fantastic! And I am really loving lentils in all forms these days. I’ve never thought the add lemon juice to the mix – sounds great!

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    Daisy posted March 7, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Crescent sounds awesome and so does this soup you made! Ducali is a cool spot.

  10. #
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    Lindsay @ biking before bed posted March 7, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Cresent sounds as unique as her name! I love lentil soup because it reminds me of winters growing up. My mom would make enough lentil soup to serve an army. I loved it topped with sharp cheddar cheese after playing in the snow.

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    11
    Isabella posted March 7, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    My mom makes the best lentil soup; she uses brown lentils and serves it as is or with pasta, sort of like a ‘pasta e fagiole’ but with lentils. I have been meaning to learn her recipe for some time now. My husband & I also make a kale & lentil soup which is warm & hearty and perfect for winter. We found the recipe from the Boston Globe, and have made it many times already. We’ve done it with green lentils and also red lentils. I love the color and richness that the soup takes on from the red lentils!

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    cathy posted March 7, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    This was the first recipe I cooked from CD’s new book. I loved it so much. I love the book so much.

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    Michelle posted March 7, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I love, love, love lentils, especially in soup. This soup looks so warm, inviting and bright!

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    Olga @ MangoTomato posted March 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    love red lentils!!! the soup sounds great, especially with the bit of heat you added in the end.

    just wish the lentils retained their orange/red color.

  15. #
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    Megan posted March 7, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    I have this book and have been trying to decide what to make first. This is a strong contender!

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    Joanne posted March 8, 2012 at 8:48 am

    I’ve heard majorly awesome things about Crescent and about this book! i obviously need to purchase it…immediately.

    And this soup…can you say…need-to-make-immediately! LOVE the middle eastern flavors going on!

  17. #
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    Meghan posted March 8, 2012 at 11:33 am

    This book sounds amazing! I was sad to miss that event.

  18. #
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    Sacha posted March 8, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    I was disappointed that I wasn’t available to attend this event — it would have been right up my alley! I would have loved to meet Crescent, and the book looks great, as evidenced by your soup.

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    honeywhatscooking posted March 9, 2012 at 1:28 am

    i’ve never heard of the book.. looks interesting. the lentils look so yummy, we use them a lot for Indian cooking too.

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    Molly Galler posted March 9, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Can I please have a name as fun as Crescent Dragonwagon? I mean, seriously.

    • Bianca Garcia replied March 10th, 2012 at 10:00 am

      I know, if only everyone’s names could be as fun as hers!

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    Lee posted March 13, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    I love lentil soup and this looks like a good one.

    • Bianca Garcia replied March 14th, 2012 at 3:31 pm

      Thanks Lee. I was really happy to discover how easy (and tasty) this is!

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