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Three Alarm Lentil Soup - By Z

Lentil soup is basically chili for brown people. Well, at least the way I had it growing up, it was. Every time, the recipe might be slightly different, depending on what vegetables were on hand or how spicy the cook wanted it. You can throw whatever you want into it. Also, it’s about as easy (if not easier) to make than chili. All it really takes is…

  1. Chop up vegetables
  2. Cook vegetables
  3. Add lentils, liquid, and spices

As you can see from the picture above, I am a big fan of a lot of different types of vegetables. I am also a big fan of spiciness, especially on a (relatively) hot day. The sun was out and my apartment was hot enough to make me change into shorts, so I decided this was the perfect day to make some Three Alarm Lentil Soup. Now, I didn’t originally know what the “alarms” meant as a title for chili. I knew it had something to do with fighting fires and the severity of the fire and I knew that Ned Flanders once deceived the public (and Homer Simpson) at a chili festival with the number of his alarms.

(Homer goes to eat Ned Flanders’ five-alarm chili.)
Homer: Five-alarm chili, eh? (Takes a bite) One…two…Hey, what’s the big idea?
Ned: Oh, I admit it. It’s only two alarm, two and a half, tops! I just wanted to be a big man in front of the kids.
Todd: Daddy, are you going to jail?
Ned: We’ll see, son. We’ll see

After a bit of research (k, one Google search), I discovered that the first use of “2 Alarm Chili” was by Wick Fowler to market his chili kit. So, it turns out there is no standardization of alarms for chili. I mean to correct that.

One source of capsaicin = One alarm

Serranos, cayenne, and a habañero

From lowest to highest Scoville units: Serrano (1 alarm), Cayenne (2 alarms), and the Habañero (3 alarms!)

Note that this excludes things like black pepper and ginger because the source of their “heat” comes from piperine and gingerol respectively (I’m not making this up, I promise). So, my three alarms were cayenne, 2 serrano peppers, and a single habañero. I came up with this after noticing the similarity of lentil soup to chili and after a trip to Mexico.

This was clearly a recipe of threes:

  1. Chop the vegetables
    • I used carrots, onions (red and white… it was the remains of onions I’d used for other things), garlic, ginger, and of course, the chilis.
  2. Cook the vegetables
    • I like them to be pretty tender, so I cook them until they’re al dente before moving onto the next step. They will end up becoming a lot softer than they are at this stage. I also add the chilis a little bit after the carrots and onions and the garlic and ginger after that. This heightens their flavor a bit.
    • While the onions are cooking, I add some turmeric to them. This is almost a knee jerk reaction to frying onions because fried onions are a part of so many Iranian dishes and turmeric is usually added to them. Plus it’s supposedly super good for you as an anti-inflammatory and a bunch of other things.
  3. Add your lentils, liquid, and spices
    • Here, as always, I like to impart some flavor. I added a little bit of vermouth to deglaze the pan (there were some bits of veggies stuck to the bottom). I saw a post somewhere awhile ago about adding vermouth instead of white wine, so I had to try it in this recipe, which is a flavor explosion already. I was pleased with the results and would advise trying out substituting vermouth for white wine. This works even if you hate vermouth (which I kind of do).
    • I also added broth instead of water for the liquid. I added 4 cups of chicken broth initially, but since the lentils weren’t where I wanted them, I ended up adding about another 2 cups or so of water.

Then let it simmer until it’s at the level of tenderness you’d like.

Carrots, Onions, and Chilis, oh my!

Carrots, Onions, and Chilis, oh my!

This turned out to be very spicy, but not so spicy you can’t appreciate the flavor. Though everyone who tried it is a big fan of spicy foods, they all said that it wasn’t so spicy you couldn’t taste all of the flavor coming through. Even so, I like to top it off with some yogurt as a texture and heat counterpart (both temperature-wise and spice-wise). Greek yogurt is the best, but regular plain yogurt works just as well.

Lentil Soup Topped with Yogurt

Lentil Soup Topped with Yogurt

Three Alarm Lentil Soup

Super nutritious, equally delicious, and awfully spicy soup.

  • Lentils – I used one bag. You can also just sweat your vegetables and then make it exactly like the basic recipe listed on the bag.
  • Vegetables – Add whatever you have on hand. I used carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, serrano chilis, and a habañero
  • Spices – Again, use whatever you have on hand. I used salt and pepper, sage, thyme, turmeric and, of course, cayenne.
  • Liquid – water is fine (for low values of fine), but broth is way better… I would also use some vermouth for deglazing
  • Yogurt – this is optional, but recommended for texture contrast and also as a means of dealing with the heat

Cut up your vegetables. Try to make everything roughly the same size so that it cooks at the same rate. However, mincing the chilis, garlic, and ginger is a good idea. Look at left side of the first picture in this post for an idea of how small to make them.

Then, put some oil in a pan (I used a mix of canola and extra virgin olive) and start sweating the vegetables. I added some turmeric and sage at this point. As I said above, I add the minced stuff (chilis, garlic, and ginger) later to keep their flavors a bit sharper. This should take about 10-15 minutes.

There will probably be little brown bits on the bottom of the pan (technically this means you got it hotter than the temperature appropriate to sweat vegetables, but whatever). Splash in some vermouth or white wine and then scrape them all off into it. Add 4-6 cups of liquid (broth or water, if you must) and your spices (I threw in sage, thyme, cayenne, and salt and pepper). Bring it up to a boil and then reduce heat. I had it on low the entire time and probably let it simmer for about a half hour to forty-five minutes. Monitor your liquid level and add more as needed… I added some water.

Start tasting at the 20 minute point checking for texture. I like my beans mushy so I cooked it longer, but you can cook it however you’d like. Also, this is a great dish to have for leftovers. The flavors meld and blend together wonderfully.

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