I learned to make this hearty and comforting soup from my friend, Mary Ann Joulwan, in New York City. It has an amazing, deep flavour, which comes from browning the onions until they are very dark and crisp. I splash the onions with water every few minutes to prevent them from sticking and burning as they get to that dark brown stage. The water creates steam that unglues the onions and cools the pot ever so slightly, letting me take the onions to an even browner state. I use this technique in many recipes, and it always gives me that magical result without which dishes are good, not peerlessly brilliant. This soup really reaches its zenith two to three days after it is made. If you can keep from having it the first day, the rewards are that much better.
- 2 cups green French lentils (sabut masoor dal)
- 12 cups water (plus 1 cup for splashing pot)
- 1/4 cup orzo pasta (or any very small pasta or everyday rice)
- 6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1.5 tbsp sea salt or to taste
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp cracked peppercorns
- 3 whole dried red chillies
- 1 large red onion, peeled, quartered and sliced crosswise
- Chopped coriander for serving
- Lemon wedges for serving
- Place 1 cup of water next to your stovetop.
- Heat olive oil with cumin in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes until the cumin is browned.
- Toss in chillies and cracked pepper and cook for 30 seconds.
- Add onions and salt and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes until the onions are deep brown and crispy. Stir often and splash the pot with water (you may not need the full cup), scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pot when the onions begin to stick.
- Toss in 2 cups of water along with the lentils and turmeric and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining water and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring midway through.
- Stir in orzo and bring back to a boil. Cook, partially covered, for about 10 minutes until the orzo is al dente. Cover pot and turn off the heat.
- Let the soup stand for 30 minutes to two hours to thicken.
- Before serving, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Taste for seasoning and serve sprinkled with coriander and a lemon wedge.