So, back to school: As I mentioned last week, with the wanton optimism of the truly ignorant, I enrolled myself in a continuing ed course. Now, having survived Week 1 (technically, my first grade pending, survival remains a speculative condition), it is Week 2’s turn with the lash: Not only was homework due last week but, within 48 hours of its submission, I had more homework due this week! The good news is, there is no corner easier to traverse than a cut one, and my homework has converged with my dinner: My recent binge on Orangette turned up this wonderful recipe for red lentil soup with lemons, and my lemon trees are hemorrhaging little egg-yolk colored balls like some vainglorious tree at Christmas.
I wouldn’t recycle an entire recipe from a hugely popular site, except for this: It is early January, and my Eureka (or standard) lemons won’t be in-season for several months. But my Meyers, they are exuberant! (A comparison of the two varietals may be found here, and a more in-depth discussion of the multi-talented Meyer here.) The two are sharply distinct: Standard lemons have more acidity and an aggressive bite, as well as a bitterness that can overwhelm; Meyers can be guilty of too little tang, but generally have the superior and more complex flavor, along with a soaring aroma and gentle sweetness redolent of their long-ago, mandarin-orange bloodline. The Meyer is also very thin-skinned – to the point of being edible – which, amongst other things, makes for terrific lemon confit (I’ve got that pile of slices in the photo curing into confit just now). Oh, and the Meyer is vastly more frost-tolerant, which, having lost last season’s crop of Eurekas and my entire Bearss lime tree last spring, means something to me…
In any case, we grow and use both at our house – my wife has definitively demonstrated that the finest lemon meringue pie, made exclusively for my birthday, when their respective seasons intersect at the cusp of winter and spring, requires both – but, as I read through the original recipe, the more I thought that Meyers were just what this soup wanted: The predominant spice is cumin, and the base is flavor is of carrots, both of which should play nicely off the orange note in the Meyers; and, as I’ve already said, I have Meyers coming out my ears, so the idea of shelling out for out-of-season Eurekas just seems anathema (I’ve written about why lemons cost so much here).
I do think you’ve got to adjust the recipe around the elevated sweetness and lower acidity of the Meyers, so I’ve doubled the amount of juice, and added a dash of Tabasco, for a bit of piss and vinegar in an otherwise mild-mannered soup; I leave out the chopped cilantro, but that’s more in deference to my wife (cilantro seems always and everywhere to be a love/hate herb, don’t you think?). I’ve made a few other minor changes – like white pepper instead of black, mainly for aesthetics, and additional salt to prop up my “stock” of water – but the one that really matters is the garnish of Da Vero Meyer Lemon Olive Oil: DaVero makes one of the finest olive oils in the world, and their Meyer Lemon oil might be the only flavored olive oil that I don’t dislike (they grow the olives – that’s their tree, over on the right – and the lemons together on the property and press the fruit together, instead of infusing it, which is, I suspect, what saves it).
4T EVOO, plus high quality olive oil Da Vero Meyer Lemon Olive Oil oil for drizzling
2 large yellow onions, chopped diced
4 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed
2T tomato paste
2t ground cumin
1/2 1t kosher salt, or more to taste (less, if you’re using store-bought stock or broth with added salt)
A few grinds of freshly ground black white pepper
Pinch cayenne or Aleppo pepper Dash of Tabasco, or more to taste
2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock and 2C water homemade stock, or water
2C dry red lentils, picked through for stones and debris
2 large carrots, peeled and diced (for more on cutting carrots, see this)
Juice of 1 lemon 2 Meyer lemons, or to taste
Some chopped whole leaves of fresh cilantro
In a large pot, warm the oil over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Add the onions and garlic carrots and cook until soft and sweet, about 4 minutes, adding the garlic toward the end. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne, and cook for 2 minutes longer. Add the broth, 2 cups water, the lentils, and Tabasco the carrots. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Continue to cook until the lentils are soft, about 30-45 minutes, depending on taste. Taste, and add more salt if necessary. Using an immersion or regular blender (regular blenders work too, but remember Boyle’s Law!), puree about half of the soup. It should still be until somewhat chunky, not completely smooth. Reheat if necessary, then stir in the lemon juice and cilantro and, optionally, some chopped cilantro. Serve the soup drizzled with good the DaVero Meyer lemon olive oil and dusted very lightly with cayenne sweet paprika, if desired, and garnish with a whole cilantro leaf, or several.