Red Lentil Soup + Ras Al Hanout

"The diet starts tomorrow" said everyone, on January 1st, 2017. So here it is: the first healthy dinner of the new year, ready for your consumption! I always need a hearty, transitional meal to help me withdraw from a season of short ribs, roasted duck, cheese, and cookies, as I step back into a life of healthy eats. So, I offer you a hearty red lentil soup full of digestive spices - ginger, caraway seeds, cloves and fenugreek within the magical Moroccan spice blend known as ras al' hanout. Ras Al' Hanout is a savory North African blend with elements of sweetness from spices like cinnamon. Moroccan food always successfully combines sweet and spicy with the aid of spice mixes like this one. Traditionally used in tagines (rich savory and sweet stews of chicken, lamb, or chickpeas), ras al' hanout is too versatile to be pigeonholed to this one use. Integrate the blend into soups, roasted veggies, or even as a rub on a hearty cut of fish like tuna or salmon. 

On these cold January nights, this soup is sure to comfort you, while easily fitting in to your post-holiday detox. Don't have time to make the gremolata? Serve with a crusty piece of country bread, but try not to skip the garlic confit yogurt

soup ingredients

1 large (or 2 small) fennel bulb

olive oil 

1 carrot

6 cloves garlic

2" piece ginger

2 cups red lentils

4 cups high quality chicken stock 

2-3 cups water

4 tsp Ras Al Hanout spice blend

1 tsp kosher salt 

1/2 tbsp caraway seeds

orange-fennel gremolata

2 cups day-old country bread cubes

1 small bunch parsley

1/4 cup fennel fronds

4 cloves garlic

zest from 1 large orange 

garlic confit yogurt

1 cup european style greek yogurt (more runny than regular)

8 cloves of garlic

olive oil

Preheat oven to 400. Place bread cubes on a sheet pan, and place in the oven for 12 minutes, until well toasted and firm, but no charred bits. 

Dice fennel and carrots. Pour three glugs olive oil into a heavy bottomed saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Throw in fennel and carrots. Coat fennel and carrots well in olive oil, and cook, stirring often, until fennel is deep golden brown. Meanwhile, finely mince ginger and garlic. When fennel is browned, add ginger and garlic, stir well and cook for 2 minutes over low-medium heat. Add lentils, ras al' hanout, kosher salt, and stir everything to combine. Add chicken stock and 2 cups of water, and simmer on low-medium heat, covered. Cook for at least 20 minutes, checking every 5 minutes to stir and prevent lentils from sticking to the bottom of the pan. If the mixture seems too thick, add 1 cup of water at a time. Ultimately, the lentils should be tender but not mushy - they should still have a bit of bite - and the soup should be thick and chunky but still pourable. Turn heat off when lentils have reached desired consistency. 

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, create garlic confit by just covering the remaining 8 cloves of garlic in olive oil. Cover saucepan, and heat over low heat for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, you will get soft, mushy, spreadable, mashable, delectable garlic. Set garlic and garlic oil aside. 

In a food processor, chop fresh garlic for gremolata. Then combine toasted bread cubes, orange zest, leaves from parsley, and fennel fronds. Set gremolata aside. 

Pour 1 glug of olive oil and caraway seeds in a small frying pan over low heat, and heat for 3 minutes, stirring often. Stir this mixture into the soup after the lentils are done cooking and reheat soup to desired temperature. 

Lastly, combine 8 confited cloves of garlic, 1 tbsp of garlic oil, and 1 cup greek yogurt. Mash well so the garlic integrates well with the yogurt. 

Serve hot soup, topped with gremolata and a drizzle of garlic-yogurt.