This dish was an accident by all counts. First, I’d intended to buy yellow split peas to make a split-pea soup, but when I got home I realized I’d accidentally picked up a bag of Chana Dal, which is actually a type of chickpea.
Then I decided to go a bit more South Asian in flavor, but rather than do a plain old dal, I wanted to do something a little different. Lately I’ve been enamored with grilled lemons, using them in everything from lemonade to marinades to ice cream. As I was broiling the lemon for this soup, I got a phone call, which brought me away from my kitchen … until I smelled an earthy citrus aroma reminiscent of preserved lemons or dried limes. My lemon!
When I opened up the grill, I found a black lump of charcoal staring back at me like a giant obsidian eye. As unsalvageable as it looked, it did smell pretty good, so I scraped a flake of black stuff off and took a nibble. It still tasted like lemon, only more nutty and complex and although it was a bit bitter, I always char my aromatics when making masoor dal and have never had a problem with the finished dal turning out bitter.
I fried some cumin and onions before tossing in the chana dal, burnt lemon and vegetable stock and sealed up the pressure cooker to cook for about twenty minutes. When I opened up the cooker I was greeted by a fragrant pot of cooked chana dal. It turns out these relatives of the chickpea hold their shape better than lentils, so I had to use a stick blender to puree it.
What I ended up with was a gloriously thick soup that was almost creamy in texture. The smoky lemon flavor was present, but not overpowering, and it lent the soup a mild acidity and intense umami that was vaguely reminiscent of tomatoes. The pith of the lemon did impart an almost imperceptible bitterness that was far less offensive than most mustard greens, while adding character to the soup.
Burnt Lemon Chana Dal Soup
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 200 grams onion, minced 1 medium onion
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup chana dal
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoons turmeric
- 1 bay leaf
- cilantro, for garnish
- Put the lemon skin-side up, right under the heating element of your broiler and turn it on high. Broil until the skin of the lemon is black.
- In a pressure cooker, add the olive oil and cumin seeds and fry until the seeds start to pop and are very fragrant.
- Add the onions and sauté until they are translucent and start turning brown.
- Add the vegetable stock, chana dal, salt, turmeric, bay leaf and burnt lemon, and then afix the lid, setting the pressure to high.
- Turn up the heat to high to bring the cooker up to pressure. When it starts hissing loudly, turn down the heat to maintain a gentle hiss and set the timer for 20 minutes.
- After cooking for 20 minutes, use the quick release method to release the pressure (see your instruction manual for details on your specific model of pressure cooker) and open up the cooker.
- Remove the lemon and bay leaf and then use a stick blender to puree the soup, add salt and water as needed to adjust the seasoning and viscosity to taste.
- Garnish with cilantro.
Yield: 4 servings
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.