chili pepper

Everybody throughout the northern hemisphere is probably eating summer food right now; you know: barbecue, ice cream, sno-cones, watermelon, and most anything grilled. Not us! The heat wave that has sent temperatures soaring past the 100’s elsewhere has yet to reach San Francisco. So we’re ‘stuck’ in the almost eternal refrigerator chill that makes the City by the Bay that much more unique. Yesterday was typical. The sun peeked out early in the afternoon, but then as night began to fall, the fog blew in and temperatures plunged. So San Francisco. We all know that nothing’s better than a warm, spicy bowl of soup on a cold day, whatever the season. So that’s my inspiration. If this sounds appealing to you, then bookmark the recipe for winter 😉 or come for a visit sometime soon.

Indian red lentil soup with Savoy cabbage

Indian red lentil soup with Savoy cabbage

This is based upon another soup that I’m partial to: vegan spicy Indian red dal. The advantage of making dal soups is that you can improvise, adding many different ingredients that will completely alter the flavor and texture, giving them new dimensions. This time I added Savoy cabbage, which I do not believe is a typical Indian vegetable.

To me, Savoy cabbage looks like a mixture between “regular” and Napa cabbage. It has the spherical shape of the former but the leaves are tender and wrinkled, like you see in the later. Savoy is sweet, and healthy, of course. Like broccoli, cauliflower and the other cabbages, it is a member of the brassica family. I love that name, “brassica,” which is why I’m constantly writing it on the blog. Plus they’re good eating and very versatile. They’re especially successful in soups, like here, or simply sautéed with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.

key ingredients for Indian red lentil soup with Savoy cabbage

key ingredients for Indian red lentil soup with Savoy cabbage

Indian red lentil soup with Savoy cabbage

½ cup of red lentil, picked over and rinsed
1 stalk celery, chopped
¼ tsp turmeric
2 medium carrots, diced small
3 medium onions chopped
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp grated fresh garlic
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
5 Roma tomatoes, peeled and diced
½ head Savoy cabbage, chopped
1 Poblano pepper, seeds and ribs partially removed, cut into small squares
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp ground chili pepper (e.g cayenne)
4 tbsp canola oil
½ bunch chopped cilantro
Wedges of lemon

Place lentils, turmeric, carrots and celery in a large pot. Add about 5-6 cups of water. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, until soft. These foam up a bit so to avoid a mess, keep lid partially off. Stir every now and then to prevent sticking. Add a bit more of water if needed but don’t overdo. Lentils are ready when soft and mushy with a thick consistency. Turn temperature down, add cabbage, cover pot and let simmer.

Toast cumin seeds in a large pan for a couple of minutes just to bring the aroma out. Transfer to a dish and set aside.

Using the same pan, add oil then mustard seeds and fry them. As they begin to pop, about a minute or so, add onions, Poblano pepper and sauté until onion becomes translucent (about five minutes). Push onion mix to one side of the pan. Add garlic and ginger. Cook until raw smells are gone but avoid burning. Stir everything together. Add toasted cumin seeds, chili pepper, coriander and cumin powders to onion mixture. Stir again. Add tomatoes and a cup of water. Bring to a boil then reduce temperature to simmer and cook for 10-12 minutes.

Pour onion/tomato mix over lentils and fold together. Add salt to taste. Simmer for another 10-12 minutes. Stir in cilantro.

Serve with basmati rice and a wedge of lemon.

see what I mean about the fog

see what I mean about the fog?


I was in the mood for some flavorful fiery Southeast Asian food the other day. Normally when that happens I go for Thai or Vietnamese but this time I decided to “travel” further south, closer to the waters of the Mallaca Strait, Java Sea, Sulu Sea and so on. That’s where Sambal originates.

calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

Sambal is a spicy sauce basically made with crushed chili peppers, garlic, ginger, sugar, onions, shallots, some sour agent such as tamarind or lime juice, anchovies, shrimp paste (belacan), etc. Enfin, this sauce is bold.

I’ve never used belacan before. It is famous for being quite stinky, so I was a bit nervous about it. Steven always complains that my nose is too sensitive. Would this kill me to smell? Well, I survived. Surprisingly, I can’t decide which stinks the most: fish sauce or belacan. And I didn’t think that fish sauce is really that bad. What do you think? All I can say with certainty is that these ancient condiments impart a wonderful and unique umami flavor to food. They’re really quite popular and are widely used in Southeast Asia, and with good reason. Never be discouraged by their smell in the “fresh” state. Once cooked, they are the best!

The recipe is quite easy to make, but you need a food processor to grind the paste conveniently.

key ingredients for calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

key ingredients for calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

1 lb calamari bodies, cleaned and cut into ¼ inch thick rings
6 medium tiger prawns, tail on, shelled and deveined
1 inch cube dried tamarind, soaked in 1¼ cup warm water for 45 minutes
½ medium white or Vidalia onion, cut into thin slivers
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp shrimp paste (belacan)
4 ripe Roma tomatoes
1 tbsp sugar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Cilantro leaves

Sambal paste:

1 inch thick piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
8 dried chili peppers (I used chile de arbol)
3 shallots
2 cloves of garlic

Place Sambal ingredients in a food processor and process into a paste. Use a spatula to push down bits that stick to the edges.

Squish tamarind with your fingers until dissolved. Juice will be a bit thick. Pass it through a strainer. Discard solid parts.

Heat olive oil in a heavy bottom pan. Add Sambal paste and stir until raw aromas are gone and you see paste separating from oil. Add calamari and shrimp and cook for just a minute. Remove shellfish to a warm bowl and reserve, leaving as much Sambal sauce in the pan as possible. Add tomato, salt, onion and belacan and cook until onion has softened. Add tamarind juice, sugar, black pepper and salt, then simmer for about 8 minutes. Remove from heat, add calamari and prawns back to pan and allow them to warm through for a couple of minutes. Adjust salt. Serve over fragrant jasmine rice. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.

This recipe has been adapted from here

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