Creamy Carrot Lentil Soup with Crunchy Almond-Coconut Dukkah
There are a few sections in my raised bed where the soil leaves quite a lot to be desired. I (un)affectionately refer to these as “dead zones,” and after seasons of disappointment, began to expect little, if any growth at all.
This past autumn and spring something spurred me to give the entire bed extra attention in the form of homemade compost tea, manure, and a new layer of peaty garden soil. Spread, till, spread, till, spread, till, wait.
Lo, and behold, a variety of carrots called Short ‘n Sweet came to represent not only the first carrots in my history of gardening, but also the first crop to outfox a dead zone. Though the size and harvest of these gnarly munchkins were small, it was a bounty considering, and proof of what the earth can provide if only we give it love.
Salad is our right-hand-meal-plan come summer, but we often welcome a warm, unexpected twist. For these little guys I thought a nice presentation would be an aromatic, brightly-hued soup. A brief sauté with onion, garlic and ginger, then puréed until silky smooth. No need for cream, thanks to quick-softening red lentils.
Crunchy, spicy, salty, sweet dukkah — an Egyptian condiment made up of toasted nuts, seeds, herbs and spices — makes the bowl distinctly Middle Eastern, and adds a textural surprise in each bite. Dukkah often features coriander, cumin, sesame seeds and hazelnuts, but I veered slightly further east with toasted coconut, almonds and smoky nigella seeds.
Focusing on ingredients that inherently pair well, this soup is healthy with minimal effort. The use of in-season produce especially means vibrant colors and bold flavors, fewer dollars out of my pocket, and maximum nutritional benefits.
What’s in it for me?
In addition to offering vitamin K, fiber, potassium, and the B vitamin biotin, the abundantly rich supply of vitamin A in carrots provides antioxidant protection, helps keep skin and eyes healthy, and promotes bone growth. Carrots are one of several vegetables that are healthier cooked than raw — in particular, you’ll absorb three times more beta-carotene.
Mildly sweet red lentils are high in protein and iron; one serving (1/2 cup cooked) contains 10 g protein and 20% of your DV for iron. 6 g, respectively. Also a rich source of complex carbohydrates, mainly in the form of soluble fiber (6 g per serving) and resistant starch, research shows that regular intake of red lentils — all lentils and pulses — may lower cholesterol levels, reduce risk of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, and may improve mood for menopausal women.
Parsley is a source of dietary nitrates that help improve blood pressure and boost blood flow to muscles during exercise, and is ranked #8 on the CDC powerhouse fruit and veg list. Phytochemicals prevalent in onion, garlic and ginger increase protection from hypertension, and are linked to lower cholesterol levels as well as decreased cancer risk. Ginger may boost immune cell activity, and is known for aiding digestion, alleviating nausea, and its anti-inflammatory properties.
While the ingredients for the dukkah nut and spice blend are taken in small portions here, their contributions to a healthy diet are no less impressive. Unsweetened shredded coconut provides a subtle rich sweetness, and a bit of fiber and iron. Almonds are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamin E as well as magnesium, and are a good source of protein and fiber.
Sesame seeds and cumin seeds (actually a relative of carrots!) offer a great deal of iron and calcium for their size, and the sesames are especially rich in cholesterol-lowering phytosterols. Native to southern Asia, dull black nigella seeds have a dusky, smoky aroma and a nutty, spicy flavor; while oblong brown coriander seeds are warm, almost citrusy tasting. Both nigella and coriander seeds hit nearly 10% of your fiber DV per 1 Tbsp, and oils in coriander seeds are loaded with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, including flavonoids, terpenoids, and phenolic compounds.
Healthy fats from the variety of seeds and olive oil enhance the ability to absorb this soup’s rocking line-up of vitamins and antioxidants, offering protection from heart disease, certain cancers, and rapid age-related cognitive and physical declines. Furthermore, the main active compound in black pepper, called piperine, not only imparts the trademark spicy kick but also improves this enhanced absorption and utilization.
I always make up larger batches of soup to stash small containers in the freezer to extend the fresh summer flavors, and for when we need a meal that’s quick and easy. It goes really well with brown rice, quinoa or other whole grains, but could also be cooked a bit further down to serve as a dip for fresh veg or warm bread or naan, or as a sauce for fish, pork or other proteins. Bonus: It’s great hot or chilled for enjoyment any time of the year.
Practically effortless to prepare, the resultant creamy-crunchy contrast of this fresh-from-the-garden soup is lovely to share as a healthy, flavorful meal with family, and would surely impress as a starter at any supper party.
Tell me… Do you have areas of the garden that produce better than others? Or any plants that do/don’t grow particularly well for you?
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 lb (about 7 medium) carrots, peeled, chopped
- 1/4 cup white or yellow onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 2 tsp fresh grated ginger
- 3/4 cup red lentils, rinsed until (cool) water runs clear
- 1 1/2 quarts (6 cups) water (or veg/chicken stock), divided
- 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
- 1/4 cup Almond-Coconut Dukkah (see HGN Notes for recipe)
- 4 wedges of lemon, to serve, optional
- In a Dutch oven or large, heavy saucepan with a lid, heat oil over medium heat. Add carrot, onion, and a pinch of salt; stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until carrots and onions are soft and slightly caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. Add garlic and ginger; cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute.
- Stir in red lentils and 1 quart water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, skim off any foam, cover and simmer until lentils are swollen and very soft, about 20 minutes.
- Let cool slightly, then use an immersion blender to purée the soup until smooth. (Alternatively, use a standard upright blender or food processor, working in batches, to purée, then transfer back to the pan.) If the soup is too stodgy and thick, add as much of the remaining water as needed to thin it to your preference. Taste and adjust salt, as needed.
- Ladle the soup into 4 bowls and garnish each with parsley and 1 Tbsp Almond-Coconut Dukkah. Lightly drizzle with extra virgin olive oil or herb oil, if desired. Serve as is, or with naan, whole grain rice, or a hunk of sourdough or rye bread, plus wedges of lemon alongside if you like.
+ In a small skillet over medium heat, toast 1/2 CUP RAW ALMONDS until fragrant and golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove to a cutting board to cool, then use a sharp knife to finely chop. Set aside in a bowl.
+ In the same skillet toast 2 TBSP SESAME SEEDS + 2 TBSP NIGELLA SEEDS (or use black sesame seeds) + 1 1/2 TBSP CORIANDER SEEDS + 1 TBSP CUMIN SEEDS just until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove to a spice grinder or small food processor to cool, then grind until crumbly.
+ Toast 2 TBSP UNSWEETENED SHREDDED COCONUT over medium heat for about 2 minutes until just golden -- watch carefully to avoid burning. Add to the mixture in the spice grinder, and pulse a few times to combine.
+ Add spices-coconut mixture to the bowl with the almonds, season with 1/2 TSP SALT + 1/2 TSP FRESHLY CRACKED BLACK PEPPER, and stir to combine. When completely cool, transfer to a tightly sealing jar or bag, and store in the refrigerator or freezer.
+ Remove about 1 cup of the sauteed veg before adding the lentils and water, then portion equal amounts into the bottom of each bowl, ladling the pureed soup over top to give it a rustic feel
+ Swap some of the carrots for peeled and chopped parsnips, rutabaga, apple or fennel; or replace carrots entirely with sweet potato or winter squash
+ Swap parsley for cilantro, mint or basil
+ Replace 1/2 to 1 cup of the water (or stock) with coconut milk for an even creamier, richer soup
+ Finish with a dollop of plain yogurt or a swirl of unsweetened coconut milk
+ Serve like a dal over rice, other whole grains or cooked vegetables; use it as a sauce for proteins like fish, meat or tofu; or cook it down a bit to create a dip for bread, naan or fresh veg
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