Orange Lentil Soup with Curry Powder and Spinach

While conducting on-site research for my recent piece on Patel's, Brian and I of course didn't leave the store empty-handed. Over the course of two visits and much wide-eyed aisle-wandering, we scored a box of so-so frozen samosas, a package of weird pepper-dusted cashews, some adorable tiny eggplants (destined, sadly, to be sacrificed in a failed experiment in stuffing), and—our best purchase—a hefty sack of masoor dal—little orange lentils.

In addition to being a good deal prettier than their more common cousins, these vividly hued legumes—which, according to The Cook's Thesaurus, are actually a type of brown lentil that's been skinned and split—are smaller and require less cooking time.

Typically, my pots of lentil soup begin with several strips of thick, smokey, bacon, which I render first thing so that the fat becomes a flavorful base. This time around—because I wanted a spring-like soup that would complement the masoor dal's bright color and relatively delicate character—I chose to forgo meat altogether and used curry powder as the primary seasoning. Cayenne pepper adds a kick of heat and ribbons of spinach are a lively (and healthy!) embellishment.


1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon good-quality sweet curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or up to 1/2 teaspoon)
2 bay leaves
2 cups orange lentils (masoor dal), picked over and rinsed
6 cups chicken broth
1 14.5-oz can tomatoes, passed through a food mill
1 russet potato, peeled and cubed (optional)
Leaves from one bunch spinach, washed well and cut into ribbons (or just torn into pieces)
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion in a little oil until transluscent. Add garlic and saute for another 30 seconds or so. Add tomato paste, curry powder, cumin, and cayenne and stir until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Add lentils, tomatoes, bay leaves, chicken broth, and potato. Partially cover, bring to a boil, and cook until lentils and potato are tender, about 20-30 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Remove from heat and puree soup a bit with an immersion blender (but don't make it too smooth). Return to heat, stir in spinach and salt and pepper to taste, and cook for a minute or so until spinach is wilted into the soup.

Be sure to visit the blog Kitchen Wench for this week's Weekend Herb Blogging roundup! (To be posted Sunday, May 27th.)

Categories: Main Dishes, Soups, Vegetables
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  • 5/24/2007 1:44 PM Patricia Scarpin wrote:
    Now that the weather here is cooler I can start making soups again - this looks so good!
    1. 5/24/2007 6:42 PM Sarah Kiino wrote:
      Hi Patricia--thanks! For us in the northern hemisphere, we're moving out of soup season . . . but I'm still going to try to get a few in anyway!
  • 5/25/2007 11:21 AM Ros wrote:
    I can't let any indian meal go by without having dahl, and this orange type is my favourite. I often do a 'drier' version of your dish with lots of added garlic, curry leaves and a few other spices. It is a great side dish when I'm making a curry. For me it is a real comfort food as it was a part of my Sunday lunch every week when I was growing up.
  • 5/25/2007 3:58 PM Bon Vivant wrote:
    I just happen to have all of the ingredients to make this wonderful looking soup. There is a nasty cold virus going around LA right now (I'm trying to nip mine in the bud today) and this soup seems like it would be a great cure.
    1. 5/26/2007 7:50 AM Sarah Kiino wrote:

      Hi Ros--I would love to try a drier--more authentic--version too. I have plenty of lentils left, so that will be next! I am also curious about curry leaves--I saw some at the Indian store, but have never used them myself.

      Hi Bon Vivant--I hope you enjoy the soup--and feel better!

  • 5/27/2007 6:12 AM Ellie wrote:
    Ohh, this looks delicious! I think I really would like to try this with the orange lentils so I'll stop by the Indian grocery store this week and see if I can track some down!
  • 5/27/2007 10:51 PM Kalyn wrote:
    That sounds so good. I've never made soup with this kind of lentils, but I love the idea of it. This sounds light and delicious.
  • 5/28/2007 1:43 PM Karen wrote:
    I love the colors in your soup - beautiful!
    Lentils are such a comfort food for me.
  • 5/29/2007 3:29 AM Helene wrote:
    What a colourful dish. Since we had a temperature clash at the weekend from 30° C down to 11° today it sounds perfect to heat the body up a bit. )
    1. 5/29/2007 7:12 AM Sarah Kiino wrote:

      Hi Ellie--An Indian grocery store will definitely have these lentils--as well as many other types!

      Hi Kalyn--I hope you do try them. To me, they are more spring-like than common lentils . . .

      Hi Karen--I agree, earthy lentils are a real comfort food!

      Hi Helene--that's true--nothing like soup to provide a bit of warmth when the temperature's down.

  • 6/2/2007 4:01 AM Claire Walter wrote:
    We're in Colorado and have had a cool week, so this seemed perfect -- and it was indeed delicious. I always tinker with recipes a little, either because I need to substitute ingredients or because I'm pressed for time and skip a step. Here are my modifications/clarifications:
    1) I used olive oil to sauté onions, etc.; 2) I used regular supermarket-quality curry powder, because that's what I had on hand; 3) I used organic vegetable broth instead of chicken broth; 4) I used fire-roasted canned tomatoes, again because I had several cans in the pantry; I did not "puree the soup a bit" near the end but skimmed, added spinach and S&P. The result might have been "less Indian," bit it was good nevertheless.
    Claire at
    1. 6/4/2007 8:47 PM Sarah Kiino wrote:
      Hi Claire--yeah, I think all good cooks tinker with their recipes to some extent. And to be honest, my version of the soup isn't authentically "Indian" either, but as long as it tastes good . . .
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