Monday, November 15, 2010

Carrot-Red Lentil Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

This soup is vegan, it's healthy, it's delicious, and it's from one of my favorite restaurants, the Union Square Cafe in New York.  It has a touch of spice from the cayenne, a slight starchy texture from the rice and lentils once pureed, a lot of hearty vegetables, and a touch of coconut milk to finish it off.   The original recipe used butter, but I replaced it with olive oil.  I used a quart of vegetable stock and a few cups of water, but you can use all stock or water if you want.  It's a cinch to put together, and is perfect for a chilly day.  Just snuggle up with a blanket and a bowl of this spiced soup for some yummy comfort.

I paired the soup with a grilled cheese for a more substantial meal.  New York is a playground for cheese-lovers.  There are many incredible cheese shops basking in notoriety and delicious fromage.  I recently stopped by the Bedford Cheese Shop (in Brooklyn, where I live) for the perfect cheese to accompany my wonderful soup.  A cheesemonger suggested Andeerer Traum (which means Andeer's Dream) at $29/lb (yes, Mom, it's expensive cheese).  Apparently this cheese hails from Grisons in the southern part of Switzerland, and won a silver medal in the 2010 World Cheese Championship Contest, an event I'm hoping to attend next year... obviously.  It received a 99.15 out of a possible 100 points in the Smear Ripened Hard Cheeses category.  I don't really know what that means... I'm just regurgitating information I found on Google, but it sounds impressive, right?

All I can tell you is that it's a delicious cheese, great for melting with a slightly nutty flavor, and I am so happy to make grilled cheeses with it!  I purchased some rye pullman bread (also from Bedford Cheese Shop), and made some caramelized onions for my cheesy accompaniment.  The sandwich had a great blend of nutty, gooey goodness from the Andeerer Traum, sweetness from the onions, all backed up with the crunchy caraway-flavored rye bread.  It paired really well with the slight sweetness from the vegetables in the soup, and balanced the spicy notes.  Neither component overwhelmed the other.   They were a symphony.

Carrot-Red Lentil Soup with Asian Spices
Serves 6
(Adapted from The Union Square Cafe Cookbook)

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 T. grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
3/4 cup sliced onions
3/4 cup peeled and sliced parsnips
4 cups peeled and sliced carrots
1/2 cup sliced celery
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup red lentils
1/4 cup basmati rice
7 cups vegetable stock or water
3/4 cup coconut milk
2 T. lime juice

In a 3-quart saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over low heat. Stir in the ginger and spices and cook for 1 minute. Add the onion, parsnips, carrot, and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Raise the heat to medium, cover, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until vegetables are softened, but not browned.

Stir in the lentils and basmati rice, mixing until well combined with the vegetables.  Add the stock or water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables and rice are tender. In batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth.

Return the soup to the saucepan, bring back to a boil, and stir in the coconut milk and lime juice. Cook for 1 more minute and serve.

Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Makes 4 sandwiches
(Printable Version)

2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
8 slices rye pullman bread, or other good sandwich bread
1/3 lb Andeerer Traum cheese, or other good, nutty melting cheese, such as Gruyère
Softened butter or mayonnaise, for grilling

In a small saucepan over low heat, heat the olive oil and add the onions, stirring to coat with the oil.  Cover and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally.  Uncover and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes more until dark golden and very tender.  Set aside until ready to use.  At this point the caramelized onions can be refrigerated until needed.

Slice the cheese into 4 slices and put 1 slice on each of 4 slices of bread.  Spread 1/4 of the caramelized onions onto each cheese-topped bread slice and cover with another slice of bread. Spread some softened butter or mayonnaise on both sides of the sandwich, covering all of the surface area on each side.

Heat a small frying pan over medium to medium-low heat.  Add the sandwich and cook until the bottom is golden brown, occasionally pressing down on the sandwich with a spatula.  Flip the sandwich over and cook the other side until golden brown and the cheese is melted.  If the sandwich is browning too fast and the cheese is not melting, lower the heat to help cook it through without overcooking the exterior.  Cut in half and serve hot.


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