Sometimes you eat something and it is so good that it fleetingly stops you in your tracks, suddenly, unexpectedly giving you a deep sense of wellbeing, the kind of food that you never want to stop eating.
That’s what I envisage whenever I hear the expression that something has been “cooked with love”. For me, it signifies food from pure, wholesome ingredients that have been put together with the intention of giving great pleasure.
When I first began working in London, back in the mid 1980s, I was introduced by a friend to a wonderful Indian vegetarian restaurant called Mandeer that produced simple but beautiful food. At the time it was situated in Hanway Place, a quiet narrow street hidden behind the commercial hustle-bustle of Oxford Street. The restaurant was accessed down some dimly lit steps, with the sweet smell of incense wafting upwards gently from the restaurant below. Inside, the food was vegetarian, wholesome and most definitely “cooked with love”. Overlooked by statues of smiling Hindu gods, customers sat together at large refectory-style tables, some eating the wonderful food in reverential silence whilst others chatted with their neighbours.
The menu was small but enticing. More often than not I would opt for helpings of two curries – one a bean and the other a vegetable curry – with brown rice, which included whole wheat grains. The restaurant used to accompany all of its savoury dishes with a small stainless steel bowl of what I later learned was called rasam. Hot, sour and delicious, the rasam could either be eaten on its own or poured over the rice. Either way, it unfailingly produced that inner glow, feeling like it was doing you such good as it went down.
In this recipe I have sought to adapt the wonderful base flavours of that sour and spicy rasam to create a substantial, powerful and restorative soup.
Mandeer later moved from its Hanway Place basement to a location in Bloomsbury. I went only once to the relocated restaurant. The food was still really good but somehow, the magic was no longer there.
I will always remember with a sense of both privilege and fondness the original Mandeer, its delightful food and calm, enchanting atmosphere.
That memory is the inspiration for this, the second of my recipes created in partnership with Suma Wholefoods Cooperative, and it is a dish that, when you make it for someone you care for, will taste unmistakably of having been cooked with love.
Alongside my own chillies and coriander I’m using Matina tomatoes from my allotment plot, the Circus Garden, to make this soup, although any good quality ripe organic tomato will work.
Virtually all of the remaining ingredients come from Suma’s wonderful range of products.
tomato, lentil and tamarind soup
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp dried curry leaves
100 g tamarind pulp
2 fresh chillies, seeds in, roughly chopped
1 tsp sea salt
200 g fresh organic tomatoes, roughly chopped (or use a can of organic chopped tomatoes)
100 g organic red lentils, rinsed and drained
1.5 litres water
1 tbsp groundnut oil
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
1. Remove any seeds from the tamarind pulp. Heat the oil in a large pan over a high heat. When the oil is hot add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. Cook for 30 seconds or so, until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Stir in the chopped chilli then add the tomatoes, tamarind, curry leaves, salt and lentils, along with the 1.5 litres of water. Stir to combine and reduce the heat to medium.
2. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for a further 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, remove the pan from the heat. Add the chopped fresh coriander, stir and set aside for a few minutes to cool slightly.
3. Process the soup in batches in a food blender and return to the pan. Gently reheat the blended soup then serve immediately, preferably with an Indian-style bread such as paratha*.
* to make four paratha, mix together 80 g plain flour, 80 g wholemeal flour, 2 tbsp groundnut oil, a pinch of sea salt and 100 ml water. Knead into a firm dough, then divide into four, roll each portion into a flat disk. Heat a teaspoon of groundnut oil in a large, heavy bottomed frying pan. When hot, add the first paratha. Cook for 3 minutes per side until crisp and golden. Repeat until all four are cooked, adding a very small amount of oil to the pan each time, if needed.