Friday, September 16, 2011

Salt Questions and The Soup of the Year: Red Lentil with Cauliflower and Indian Spice

I know you've experienced this scenario before: your favorite restaurant serves a dish and you think it's the best thing since sliced bread. And you wanna make it at home, because there is no way you could ever get enough of this dish. So you set about making said food yourself and hope for the best.

That's how this recipe came into being. My BP (business partner) and I created this soup recipe as a joint venture. Pretty funny since our usual jobs are managing a custom invitation printing company. But Red Lentil with Indian Spice soup was so near and dear to our hearts after eating it and loving it for so long at Organic Energy, we had to try creating an oil-free, low salt version for ourselves (more on salt after the recipe).

My husband pronounced, "it's the soup of the year!" It really is that good. Just don't make it when you are in a time crunch.

Red Lentil Soup with Cauliflower and Indian Spice
Makes 7 servings (2-cups each)
Printable Recipe
2 cups red or orange lentils
6 cups water
3 plum tomatoes
2 cups yellow onion, finely chopped
6 Tbsp low sodium vegetable broth
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped and made into a paste by sprinkling 1 tsp of kosher or sea salt (to act as an abrasive) and crush with the side of a large chopping knife over the mixture until the garlic breaks down and becomes paste like. Skip salt altogether if you cannot go there and just finely chop the garlic!
1 tsp white or black sesame seed
2 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp fennel seed
2 tsp brown or yellow mustard seeds
2 bay leaves
2 tsp turmeric
1 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk
1 ½ tsp coconut extract
1 lime, juiced
1 14 ounce bag frozen cauliflower
Optional: a dash or two of cayenne pepper (I used two)
salt (I added 1 tsp more for the whole pot) or salt free seasoning
Chopped cilantro, for garnish

Take frozen cauliflower out of freezer and leave on counter to partially defrost. Measure seeds (sesame, cumin, fennel and mustard) and place into one small bowl and set aside.

Place lentils in a metal sieve and rinse well with cold water.

Fill a medium sauce pan halfway with water and bring to a boil. Score the peel of the base of the tomatoes with a sharp knife in the shape of an “X.” Place the tomatoes in the boiling water and blanch for 1 minute. Drain the tomatoes and run them under cold water. Once cool, peel and finely chop the tomatoes, discarding the tough stem ends.

In the same medium sauce pan that you used for the tomatoes, place lentils and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Turn off heat when lentils are finished and put to the side. Do not drain lentils or discard the cooking liquid, you will need this later!

Heat a large dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat. When pot is hot, add the seed mix and jiggle the pot around. You want to toast the seeds but be careful not to burn them. They are ready when they look toasty and you smell something wonderful. At the sign of any burning, lower the heat immediately. When seeds are toasty, add onion and 3 Tbsp vegetable broth. Stir frequently and “sauté” onion for 5 minutes.

Add garlic/salt paste and 3 more Tbsp vegetable broth. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently and lowering the heat if the onion/garlic/spices start to burn. Add turmeric, bay leaves, almond milk, coconut extract and peeled chopped tomatoes. Stir. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Chop partially defrosted cauliflower and add to pot. Add lentils and their cooking liquid and lime juice and simmer for 20 minutes.

Optional: Partially puree soup with an immersion blender. Season with Cayenne pepper and/or salt or salt free seasoning to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Blanching the tomatoes really does take just one minute so the skin will peel off. You don’t want to cook the tomatoes.
You can leave this soup to simmer for a long time and the flavors will only get better.

This soup is absolutely delicious. But BP and I were very fascinated by the taste difference between our version and the restaurant version of the soup. It got us talking about salt. We calculated the amount of added sodium (from the salt, not the other ingredients which also contain natural amounts of sodium) per 2-cup serving (yes, a large serving) and it came to about 650 mg of sodium.

That's a decent amount of sodium. But by no means does our version even begin to taste "salty." We talked about how much better it would taste with more salt and either real coconut milk or oil, but neither one of us is willing to go there anymore!

The point is, that even a soup with 650 mg of added sodium per serving does NOT taste salty to us. And even more importantly, I thought I was creating a low sodium soup by only having 2 tsp of salt in the entire big pot of soup. I now know that 2 tsp of salt is 4600 mg of sodium, which calculated out to a whopping 650 mg/serving.

So how much sodium is in foods that DO taste salty to our palate? A whole crap load, I'm sure of it now.

What are your thoughts/experiences with salt? Are you struggling with this? Do you add it to recipes anymore or have you eliminated it from your home cooked food?

What is the best salt-free seasoning? I'm now considering purchasing a whole truckload of it! 


c said...

I have not used any oil, sugar or salt in cooking or baking r over 3 years. I believe that if you need to add salt to your food, you really must not like whatnyounare eating very much. When I am cooking for regular people, I stead of adding salt which is 2,400 mg of sodium per teaspoon, I use low sodium miso which is 115 mg of sodium per teaspoon or raw coconut a minos which are 113mg of sodium per teaspoon. My favorite salt free seasoning blend is Benon's Table Tasty available at

Love & Kale,
Chef AJ

The Healthy Librarian said...


I'm sooo excited to try this recipe!! If your husband says it's the best--I know it is!

It uses my all-time favorite foods & flavor mixtures: Red lentils! The Curry Spices, tomatoes, & coconut extract (LOVE IT!!).

More info on the best brand & proportions to substitute coconut extract for high fat coconut milk in: "My big fat "no-fat" Coconut Crush" (sorry this isn't a hyperlink--gotta cut & paste)

Thanks so much for your very helpful comment on my blog with dinner party suggestions! You're the best!!

And for the invite!

I'm definitely leaning toward Mexican.

And big thanks for including my Creamy Chipotle Dressing in your fabulous salad dressing listing!

You're the best. Enjoy your dinner party.

TejasJJain said...

Hi Wendy,
I use salt. I do not use sugar or oil anymore but salt I do. It is my addiction...
And then I complain that plan is not working for me....
I had guest for dinner yesterday and they loved my ol free food.
Thanks you so much for sharing all thsi information....

Healthy Hailey said...

Is sea salt really any more healthy than Table salt? I heard that it doesn't unbalance the body the same way that table salt does.

Melomeals: Vegan for $3.33 a Day said...

I am trying to reduce the salt I use for health reasons and because I retain a huge amount of water... it's hard though... even though I cook from scratch... I was actually developing a recipe for a magazine and trying to get it in the "low sodium" range of under 400 mg per servings and it was sooo hard (especially since it was a potato salad and you have to add SOOO much salt.. uugghh)..

Jen said...

This recipe looks great & can't wait to try, thanks!

Here's a cooking tip that was part of a paella recipe that I tried for the first time this week. Slice round tomatoes in half crosswise (not at stem end). Hold the cut side against large holes of a box grater & grate, creating tomato pulp until you are holding just the skin...possibly a quicker step to peeling, cooling & finely chopping.

Healthy Girl said...

Hailey-Sea salt is marginally better for you than other salts. Marginally.

Mel-I know! It's really challenging. I put in an order for Benson's Table Tasty on Friday at the recommendation of Chef Aj. I hope the product is as great as everyone says!

Jen-great tip! Thanks for that one.

Anonymous said...

Soup of the year, I am so on it!

Runescape Gold said...

oh~ My god!

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