Red lentil coconut soup (plus a bonus feature!)

Now that I’m getting back into my Rouxbe cooking lessons, it was time for some more tasty practice. Today’s lesson: submersion cooking techniques (poaching, simmering, and boiling), as demonstrated by making a soup. There were a number of soups to choose from, but I settled on the red lentil coconut soup. (For those not on Rouxbe, you can see the slightly-modified recipe here.)

(Much more detail on my experience behind the cut… plus a bonus feature!)

It took a little longer than anticipated, as anything does the first time you make it. I replaced the serrano pepper with a dried chipotle, because I had a bunch in my spice drawer I’ve been meaning to use. I had to google “how to use dried peppers,” which told me to cut out the stem, seeds, and veins, toast for about 30 seconds per side in a dry pan, rehydrate in hot tap water for 30 minutes, and then run in a food processor. I did all that except the toasting part (because I’m lazy), but I had to start the pepper soaking before I did anything else, which added a bit of time.

The recipe made very clear that you should use whole cumin and coriander seeds, not the ground stuff, “as you will not achieve nearly the same delicious results.” I had some whole coriander seeds at home and went to my local spice store to pick up some cumin seeds (1 oz = $2). While they were quite tasty, I wasn’t thrilled with the sensation of having to pick seeds out of my teeth while eating the soup. Not sure if using whole seeds was a good idea or not.

Surprisingly, I did have some vegetable stock on hand. Last week I used up a bunch of vegetable scraps I had in my freezer (the results of other cooking experiments) and decided to try making a stock out of them. It turned out pretty well, actually, and yielded about 12 cups of stock, so I was able to pull out one of my 3-cup tupperwares and use that for tonight’s soup. Yay for serendipity!

At the very end, when I was adding in the lemon juice and zest, I may have added just a little too much. The final product was very lemony, almost too lemony. Not sure how I can tone that down except try to use less lemon juice next time.

Otherwise, I stuck to the recipe. I’d meant to pick up avocados and completely forgot, so there wasn’t really any garnish to the soup. (Bad Julie! Work on your plating!) On the other hand, it went very nicely with the sweetness of the anadama bread Marc and I make as our go-to bread.

Final verdict: It’s… fine. It’s a nice soup, pretty hearty, and good for fall. But it’s not as good as the other red lentil soup I make, which is one of our favorites. Also, as I said, you get the sense that you’re picking seeds out of your teeth through the whole thing. I’ll be happy to finish what’s left (about 4-5 cups, I think), but I’m not sure I’ll make this one again.

And now it’s time for a…

Bonus Feature!

One of the exercises in the Rouxbe course is to take a small pot of cold water, add some small vegetables like diced carrots or peas and a small piece of chicken breast, slowly turn up the temperature, and see what happens at various different temperatures. This is to give you some intuitive sense of poaching, simmering, and boiling temperatures and how the water and various ingredients act at the different stages.

Sadly, the peas I had in the water more or less never moved. I’m not sure if this is because of the chicken breast making it harder (it looked like there was some scum on the surface of the water that the peas were trapped under), if it’s because they were just happy hanging out on the sides of the pot and felt no need to go into the middle, or what, but they were fairly useless for temperature indications.

Thankfully, the water itself and the chicken breast were much better indicators. Oh, and I got to use my brand-new probe thermometer, which makes me happy.

So, here’s what I observed as the water heated up:

22 C: Temperature of the water as it went on the stove. No movement.
30 C: Still no movement. The water feels slightly cool to the touch.
35 C: One pea drifts lazily across the surface.
40 C: Tiny bubbles start forming on the bottom of the pot. The water feels slightly warm to the touch.
45 C: Steam begins rising. The water on the top is moving slowly.
50 C: Bubbles form around the thermometer probe. The chicken is starting to become opaque. The water feels hot to the touch.
56 C: Some peas drift along the surface of the water, reach the far side, and stop.
60 C: Tiny bubbles rise to the surface. The chicken is white and becoming opaque. I can’t keep my finger in the water for more than a second.
65 C: Tiny bubbles coat the sides of the peas. The bubbles on the surface are moving around slowly.
70 C: Tiny bubbles are breaking the surface a bit faster and swirling around the top. It is now too hot for me to immerse my finger in the water.
75 C: The bubbles are not swirling anymore, though they are still rising.
80 C: Tiny bubbles are still rising, but there’s not much movement of anything.
82 C: The chicken breast rises from the bottom of the pot and floats, barely tethered.
90 C: Lots of bubbles are rising to the surface and starting to break. The chicken breast floats up to the surface.
95 C: The bubbles are still tiny but breaking almost continuously. There is a scum-like coating on the surface of the water, possibly from the chicken. The peas looks like they are trapped under the scum.
99 C: The center of the pot starts to boil, with large bubbles breaking continuously. The peas move back to the sides if I push them towards the center, but otherwise seems disinclined to move.
100 C: The water reaches a rolling boil. The peas bob up and down with the water as they stay on the side of the pot.

After this was all done, I decided to take a bite of the chicken, just to see what it tasted like. Short version: really bland and tough. As you might imagine would be the case after boiling it in unsalted water. *grin*

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