I’ve said this before when making soup back in the Neolithic, but lentils do NOT get enough love. When prepared right, these earthy, creamy, protein-packed legumes are truly delicious, which is why lentils, or Dal, are consumed and beloved by all cultures across India.
There are uncountable ways to cook them, and all sorts of things to add to make a unique dish. But to honor that tasty tradition, of one of the only ingredients to unite all of Indian cuisine, I wanted to make something I could call the “ultimate” Dal, while mostly keeping it pure and simple, with no superfluous ingredients. Just onions, garlic, spices, and lentils. Five kinds of them in fact.
I know, it’s final form is not the most appetizing looking thing ever to be cooked on Anthrochef, but the flavor? I promise you it will blow your mind.
Note: This recipe is more of a guide than a specific set of instructions. Feel free to substitute any amount or combination of lentils, and the same goes for whatever spices you want to use!
Which ancient civilization made the most flavorful cuisine?
Perhaps you could make a case for any of the cuisines and civilizations we’ve covered thus far, and no doubt each one has been best at something. But when it comes to pure, impact of flavor? Nobody beats India.
Thanks to its geography, history, and available ingredients, as well as some impressively advanced cooking techniques we’ll cover in depth, the story of South Asian civilization is the story of spice, rice, and flavor. Oh, and of vegetarians too!
WARNING: side effects of this episode may include getting very, very hungry!
Music for this episode sampled from the late, great Ravi Shankar
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Simple and hearty today. We’re going back for a taste of the ancient Near East.
Thanks to the famous Greek historian Herodotus, most anthropologists believed that Egyptians avoided pork either for religion or out of disgust, but evidence has shown that first wild boar, and then domesticated pig as well as their fat as a cooking medium were consumed regularly up until the New Kingdom. In this late period, when a rising sort of middle class could afford to eat pork, the elites may have shunned it to distinguish themselves. After that, pigs were considered a lower class food.
We’re tracing Egypt from the very beginning, so for this dish I’m gonna say pigs are not yet domesticated. Luckily, I’ve got the shoulder of a wild boar. Boar is interesting. It cooks like pig but will remind you more of beef than of pork.
Why boil it all? Well first off, it’ll really be more of a heavy simmer. But the long cook time needed to make pork shoulder tender will work well with a lot of liquid, keeping the meat nice and juicy and forming a flavorful broth in the process. Secondly, pottery changed cooking in the Neolithic. Pottage, or soups and stews, were very popular all over the Near East. Even though we’re using this recipe to kick off History of Food’s Egypt episode, this is a dish you could probably find all over the fertile crescent and beyond. Anywhere there was wild boar to be domesticated, and pots invented to cook it in.
Lentil soup has become a punchline, a shorthand meat eaters use to make fun of how boring the vegetarian diet supposedly is. But this is WRONG! Lentils are amazing, and lentil soup can be one of the most simple and transcendent things you ever cook if you do it right.
The ancients of the Near East sure knew how to use lentils, and other pulses similar to it. For most of antiquity, lentils were considered a poor man’s food. Common folk could not usually afford meat, but lentils and chickpeas would have been a great protein substitute.
This supposed peasant food is nutritious, satisfying, and quite packs a lot of flavor with a few simple ingredients. Using modern versions of the ingredients available since the Neolithic on is enough to make a creamy, hearty, and healthy soup.
1 cup red lentils (But you can substitute other colors too) 4-5 cups water 1 large onion, diced 1 fat carrot, diced 3-5 cloves fresh garlic, mashed 1/2 cup Tahini water (see recipe) Crushed coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds (or just use Garam Masala spice) 1 cup Yogurt (leave out for vegan version) 1/2 bunch Coriander (cilantro) or Parsley leaves chopped
(Makes 3-4 bowls)
Coat the bottom of a stockpot with sesame oil (or butter) over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and carrot. Season with salt and the ground spices. Saute until the onion is starting to soften, but not fully cooked.
To make tahini water, take an empty Jar of tahini and fill with quarter cup of water, closing and shaking vigorously to clean the jar and make a liquid. (Or simply whisk the water into 2 tablespoons of tahini in a bowl.)
Add the lentils and lightly toast for about 2 minutes. Then add water plus tahini water. Turn up the head to high and bring to a boil. When boiling, immediately turn down to a simmer.
Simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring the bottom occasionally. Use the back of your spoon to mash some of the fully cooked lentils against the side of the pot for a creamy consistency. Add water if desired to adjust consistency.
Mix the chopped herbs and Yogurt together. Add half to the soup and stir in, and reserve the other half for garnish at the end. Ladle the soup into bowls and then add a dollop of the herb yogurt to serve.