Story by: Shelley DeWees, Photos by:
November, how we love thee. You couldn’t have come at a better time. Before fall, choosing clothing was a case of deciding which shirt, the black or the white, would show less sweat. Pick the white and it’s a wet T-shirt contest; pick the black and it’s a less visible yet wetter wet T-shirt contest. But now that you’re here, November, black and plaid are back and in fad, ready to be thrown into the mix along with steaming dark roast coffee and freshly sharpened pencils. Thanks for passing by, November.
This month, the summer blast is finally over for good, leaving us free to hail the return of soup. Hot, sexy soup. Winter’s perfect mate. A leftover-lover’s dream come true. A sweater-wearing, wine-drinking extravaganza, wonderful alone or with friends. Give me good chunky stew alongside a big ‘ol pint of beer any day during the cold months and watch as I settle comfortably into my chair and forget all about everything everywhere. Oh, and pass the bread, please. Thank you. Want some?
Versatile, cheap and fantastically easy to prepare, soup is your best friend when you clomp home with the wind at your back, starving and cranky. With only one pot and a smattering of ingredients, a meal will be bubbling merrily away in 15 minutes or less, without much more effort on your part beyond a bit of chopping and some slapdash spices. So whether it’s a hearty bean concoction or an elegant French onion served with bread, tortillas or all on its own, break out the wool socks and settle in. Things are lookin’ up.
This particular recipe, practiced and perfected through years of bitter Montana winters, is the ultimate in warming comfort, the paragon of heat-me-up paradise that can be attributed to both the steaming broth and the swift spicy kick of the curry paste (make a pot and try to stay cold- I dare you). It’s simple and lovely all by itself, but goes to a whole new level with the addition of warm, crunchy croutons fresh off the stove. Salt, pepper and a generous dash of olive oil are combined with yesterday’s bread, toasted over a hot flame and tossed on top for some oh-so-delicious soup-lovin’ magic. You’d better make extra. Totally reasonable.
Spicy Sweet Potato Lentil Stew with Salt N’ Pepper Croutons
For the soup
Red lentils are what you need here, mostly because they cook up super fast but also because they look pretty combined with red curry paste. Red + red = better red. Brown lentils and red curry paste aren’t as cute.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 giant carrot, chopped
- 3-4 tbsp hot curry paste (use mild if you prefer less spice)
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3-5 sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and diced into mouthful-sized cubes
- 2 cups uncooked red lentils
- 8 cups water
- Salt and pepper to taste
Using your biggest pot, warm the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the onion and carrot, cook for 5 minutes or until the onions begin to brown, then stir in the curry paste, cinnamon and 1 cup of water. Throw the garlic in on top, then drop the lid down and simmer for 5 more minutes until the curry is smooth and fully incorporated. Add the remaining 7 cups of water, the lentils, and the potatoes. Then stir, cover, and crank up the heat. Once the mixture comes to a boil (keep your ears open and listen for the bubbling), bring the flame down to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the lentils are tender and the potatoes are soft, 20 minutes or so. When the soup is done, take it off the heat and let it rest while you prepare the croutons. Flavors will meld. Broth will cool. Soup will excel.
For the croutons
Don’t stress about the choice of bread, really. Anything will do, whether it’s a gorgeous artisan loaf or a bag of Shany dinner rolls. Use what you have on hand and get down to business.
- 4 tbsp olive oil (about four good glugs)
- 4-6 cups bread chunks, sliced or torn into mouthful-sized pieces
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a large, wide skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat for at least two minutes, but stop before it smokes (you’ll need it very hot when you add the bread). Carefully lay the bread chunks in the oil and toss, coating each piece as evenly as you can, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Let the bread sit undisturbed for about 30 seconds, allowing it to toast. Toss again, then let it sit for another 30 seconds, repeating the process until the bread is golden brown and the liquid is gone. Dump the croutons onto a cookie sheet to cool for five minutes before serving. Assemble your meal with a few serious ladles of soup, a handful of crispy croutons and a big bold wine. Life is good.