When the days get shorter and chillier, but you still have some tardy tomatoes clinging to your plants, this warming soup is a great way to use them up. You’ll probably have to pick the fruit before they’re deep red, and spread them on a tray inside for a few days to let them mature. But there’s still a taste of lingering summer.
If, on the other hand, you use pre-made tomato purée, you may need to dilute it somewhat: it needs to be fairly runny, without being too thin.
Tomato purée – 1 lt
Lentils – 75 g
Onion – 1 large
Red pepper – 1
Garlic – 1 clove
Fresh ginger – to taste
Chili – to taste
Vegetable stock cube – half
Olive oil – 1 tbsp
If you’re starting from tomatoes, remove the stalks, slice the larger ones into chunks and place them in a saucepan with enough water to cover the bottom of the pan to a depth of a centimetre or so. Cook them over a medium heat until they’re soft and running juice, then pass them through an old-fashioned mouli food mill or a sieve to remove the skins and pips.
Chop the onion, garlic and pepper roughly and drop them into the hot oil in a clean saucepan. Add as much (or as little) ginger and chili as you like: the more you use, obviously, the spicier the soup will be. I like a cube of ginger measuring slightly more than a centimetre, diced finely, plus about half a fresh chili. Add these to the saucepan and stir them as they fry gently over a medium heat, until they’re beginning to soften nicely.
Pick the lentils over if necessary and rinse them well in a sieve under cold running water. If you like your soup very thick, you can increase the amount to 100g or more, but the quantity given above will make a good filling consistency anyway. Add the lentils and the tomato purée to the pan, bring it to a gentle boil, cover, and leave the soup to simmer until the lentils are cooked. You can speed this up by adding a pinch of bi-carb soda – and by not adding salt if you’re a salt user. Acids and salt both slow down the softening process of pulses, and as tomatoes are very acid, salt will just exacerbate the problem.
When the lentils are very soft, add (salt if you’re using it and/or) the half stock cube. Use a stick blender to blitz the soup. The effect you want is not a smooth paste: any large lumps of onion or pepper should disappear, but the lentils should retain much of their character.
At this point, you may need to add a little water or vegetable stock if the result is too thick. I like to serve the soup piping hot with a blob of cool, creamy goat’s cheese or Greek yoghurt in the centre, lots of freshly ground black pepper and a few finely chopped chives.
© Anne Hanley, 2011