Sunday, March 13, 2011


Hi everyone. I'm back. And I would like to thank each and every one who sent me an email or wrote me a note, for your kind words. I really appreciate it. You guys are so sweet. And you know what? I missed you. I missed writing here. I missed coming to this space of mine.

It's been difficult this past month but I'm slowly making my way back to normalcy, if there's anything like that in life; normalcy. Anyway.
Just look at everything that's been happening around the world, like in Japan and in Yemen or Libya and you'll realize that life can be anything but normal.

This past week I have been back in the kitchen big time. I'm really craving things, mostly in the form of soups and all things spicy. Perhaps it's because of this winter, which insists on sticking around even though every person in the Northern hemisphere is sick of it and wishing for spring to begin already.

I have been making Dutch pea soup and the classic Greek chicken avgolemono soup on one hand and on the other I have been making Indian butter chicken and Indonesian beef satay, trying to keep my palate in shape and on its toes.

And then suddenly I stumbled upon a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi which combined both of my latest obsessions, soups and spiciness, and one of my long-standing obsessions, lentils. A Thai coconut milk and red lentil soup with crispy fried shallots. This has swiftly become my favorite soup of this winter and why not spring too.

This soup is so flavorful and healthy and spicy and fresh and hot and aromatic and soothing and, did I mention hot? Well, it is a Thai soup after all. And Thai cuisine is one of the most spicy and hot cuisines in the world.

Apart from being spicy though, Thai cuisine is one of the most harmoniously balanced cuisines in terms of flavors and textures and one with great diversity due to the influence of the Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, French and Japanese on the style of cooking.

The marriage of sour, sweet, hot and spicy notes is accomplished by the use of fresh herbs, coconut milk and oil, ginger and galangal, kaffir limes, lemongrass, spices and the notorious curry pastes. Jasmine rice is one of the most popular varieties of rice in Thailand and is served with most dishes, whereas vegetables form the foundation of the Thai meal.

Nam pla, which is the Thai fish sauce, is one of the basic ingredients in Thai cooking, the same as salt is to the Western world. Fish sauce is a pungent, salty sauce made from fermented fish and is used as a condiment in stews, curries and soups as well as a dipping sauce or a marinade.

Fried shallots, which I made to accompany this soup, are widely used in South-East Asian cuisine, especially Malaysian, Thai and Vietnamese. They are used as a garnish for stir-fries, curries, soups or fried rice and they are immensely delicious. I love every type of onion there is (and I'm not afraid to say it) but these fried shallots were the cherry on top of this piquant Thai soup. The combination is simply amazing and truly flavorsome. Give it a try and you'll see for yourselves.

Thai Coconut Milk and Red Lentil Soup with Crispy Fried Shallots
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi

If you want to turn this dish into a vegetarian one, just use salt instead of the fish sauce. That easy.

Kaffir lime leaves (fresh or dried) are a bit hard to find in some places (for example Greece) but there's no actual substitute for them. The best you can do if you can't find them is to add the zest of 1 lime for every 2 kaffir lime leaves.

Curry pastes are an integral part of Thai cooking. Curry paste is a finely ground or pounded (traditionally with a mortar and pestle) moist blend of fresh herbs, spices and vegetables, with the main ingredient being chillies.
This recipe calls for Thai red curry paste which you can find in Asian grocery stores. You can also try making your own, using this recipe.

Yield: 6 soup servings

250 g red lentils
45 ml sunflower oil
1 medium-sized onion (about 90 g), finely sliced
1 ½ Tbsp Thai red curry paste
2 lemongrass stalks, beaten and bruised slightly with the back of a big knife or a rolling pin
4 fresh kaffir lime leaves or 6 dried ones
950 ml water
250 ml coconut milk
Juice of 1 lime, freshly squeezed, plus some extra for serving (optional)
15 ml soy sauce
30 ml nam pla (Thai fish sauce) or salt (to taste)
15 g fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped

6 Tbsp crispy fried shallots (see recipe below)

Special equipment: colander, immersion blender or regular blender

Place the lentils in a colander and rinse them under cold running water.

Pour the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and heat it over medium heat. Add the sliced onion, turn heat down to low, cover the pan and cook the onion for about 13 minutes, until it is completely soft. Be careful not to brown the onion.

Add the red curry paste and stir it around. Cook it for 1 minute and then add the lemongrass, the kaffir lime leaves, the red lentils and the water. Stir everything around, cover, turn heat up to high and bring to the boil.
When it comes to the boil, turn the heat down to low and simmer for around 15 minutes, until the lentils soften.

Take the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves out of the pan and discard them. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth and velvety. If you don't have an immersion blender, ladle the lentils into a normal blender and blend the soup there. Then return it to the pan.

Add the coconut milk, lime juice, soy and fish sauce (or salt) and stir well. Place the pan back on the heat (medium heat) and just before it starts to boil, turn the heat off.

Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning by adding extra fish sauce or salt.

Serve the soup in individual soup bowls and top with fresh coriander leaves and/or some crispy fried shallots. Squeeze some extra lime juice on top of the soup to give it that extra zing.

The soup can be refrigerated for a day. Reheat it and enjoy it.

Crispy Fried Shallots

Fried shallots were a revelation to me the first time I made them. I loved them. There was a battle between caramelized onions and crispy fried shallots in my mind as to which is the best onion condiment, but the fried shallots won in the end.

You can try them as a snack or you can use them to top off a salad or a steak, and you can also use the oil you fried them in to sauté just about anything. The oil, which has been flavored by the shallots, will render a beautiful aroma and taste to whatever you choose to sauté.

Yield: about 2 cups

450 ml sunflower oil
160 g shallots (around 8 shallots)
1/8 tsp salt

Slice the shallots thinly in rings and separate them into individual rings.
Spread them in a single layer on paper towels and leave them to dry for 30 minutes.

Pour the oil in a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Once it starts to shimmer, test it by dropping a shallot ring inside. It must immediately begin to fry but not burn.
Add the shallots, salt them and fry them for 6-7 minutes. You must keep an eye on them, moderating the heat if needed, because you don't want them to get burned.
After those 6-7 minutes, they should start to brown. Turn the heat off and leave them there for another minute or so, until browned and crispy.

Remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on paper towels to drain excess oil and cool.

You can use them immediately or you can store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a week.


  1. Welcome back Magda and thanks for sharing the soup! You might find getting busy in the kitchen will help you get through this difficult time.

  2. So wonderful you've come back. Soup is the perfect thing, warming and comforting. This one must be absolutely delicious; I often make a curry with kaffir leaves, fish sauce and coriander and it's a favourite of mine. Take care dear Magda, I'm thinking of you.

  3. I'm really glad you are back. Thanks for this soup, a precious change from late winter flavours, waiting for spring to arrive, finally.

  4. What a beautiful soup! I love all of it: coconut milk, red lentils and (fried) shallots. I will have to make this soon since I am fasting for GO lent :-) Glad you are back.

  5. So good to see you here again, Magda. Beautiful soup. The crispy shallots look delicious. I too adore every type of onion. Take care, Denise

  6. Sorry for your loss, Magda. I'm glad you're back and cooking. You've been in my thoughts while you were away.

  7. This is my first visit to your blog, and I am so sorry to hear of your loss.

    This is a beautiful recipe; I can't wait to make it.

  8. Glad you are back. I know a lot of people were thinking of you. Hope you're doing ok. This soup looks tremendous. The ingredients would be way to hard to find here in Italy, so I'll wait til this summer when I'm back in the US. Happy Cooking. Hope Spring is on it's way to you soon.

  9. Love that soup! I jumped when I saw your name on my feeder, so I could read you first. Glad you are back.

  10. It is good to have you back, we missed you. I just wrote today about how small gestures of everyday life can help, soothe, bring one back to a certain normalcy. May your wonderful recipes and photographs help you get through these tough moments.

  11. Magda, please add me to the list of friends who have missed you - but who understood the time you needed to take for yourself. I am so glad you are back. The soup looks so comforting and, yet, adventurous. Kind of like life the way it really happens. Take good care.... David

  12. I am really glad to have you back and see you posting again. The soup sounds delicious. I found an Asian store not very close to my house but bought a lot ofingredients and one of them was red lentils but unfortunately I do not have all the ingredients which are in your recipe.

  13. The soup looks and sounds really tasty. I could use some now! I like cooking, it is definitely a good thing to do to keep busy and distracted. Take care of yourself, deb x

  14. Welcome back Magda, you've been missed. It can be hard returning to everyday routines after a loss but it can also be a great comfort. After 5 years I still miss my father terribly but having a project to concentrate on helped me get through the early days. I wish you all the best. Tamsin

  15. Thank you all so much for your warm welcome!

  16. Hi Magda, I was really happy to come here and see this post---welcome back. What a lush soup--it has so many compelling flavor elements.
    I will have to make those crispy fried shallots, too---they look ever so good. Nancy

  17. Magda, sorry for your loss.
    Welcome back your recipe and your photos look amazing. Keep cooking Warm thoughts for London :-)

  18. Welcome back Magda., so great to see you back. Lovely soup, couldn't agree more with Thai flavours.... just so lovely.

  19. I'm glad you're back...take care of you and keep memories alive......Abrazotes, Marcela

  20. Gorgeous recipe - thank you for sharing your story and your memories of your father.

  21. Welcome back Magda. I'm glad you're taking the first steps to healing. Having lost my dad 10 years ago in a similar manner, I understand a bit how you're feeling. Stay blessed and meet up soon? Love

  22. it's really difficult to lose a parent, esp when they are so young; both my parents died relatively young (esp my mother, only 60 years old), and i still sense their loss because i feel very much alone here in their own native land...

  23. hello: I am new to your blog (just stumbled here) but I am sorry to hear about your father.

    This soup sounds delightful. I particularly like your fried shallots.

  24. Looked for a φακε recipe and ended up here, and I must say that this look and sound like the best φακε soup I ever seen, will try it tomorrow :) Thank you