The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

tomato, lentil and tamarind soup

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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.

tomatoes growinglentilscumin seedsparatha
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.

Categories: dairy free, gluten free, vegan


25 replies

  1. Great photo, I can almost taste this soup. I love Indian food and spice based soups, this really looks the business.

  2. Thank you! It really is a lovely soup. 🙂

  3. Fond memories of the Mandeer Steve – happy days!

  4. I’m sure your version of Rasam is absolutely delicious Steve..looks yum.😋

  5. Love the pictures – the soup looks and sounds perfect. I’ve never tried tomatoes and lentils together, it must be delicious.

  6. There is a feeling of autumn in the air, so just right for a beautiful and delicious soup 🙂

  7. Hi Ann

    Thank you for your comments. I posted this recipe (and I am writing this reply) from Provence, France, where we are currently enjoying a balmy 28 degrees of heat. From here it’s hard to believe that autumn is only just around the corner. However I will be returning to the UK all too shortly, where I don’t expect my shorts will be seen again worn in public for the rest of the year, and where soups like this will soon be the order of the day!


  8. I’m a convert to Suma products after trying a whole range recently. Quality ingredients added to homegrown vegetables and herbs… I’m sure your soup is delicious.

  9. Another inspired recipe and gorgeous photo! 🙂

  10. Thank you Annie 🙂

  11. Steve, tried your Thai basil and lemongrass ice cream and what a winner it turned out to be. Most delicious and unusual. Used it to accompany sticky stem ginger cake; a match made in heaven. You can get the cake recipe here:

    Definitely not for diabetics though!
    Provence eh? sounds wonderful.

  12. Mmm it’s warming me up just looking at it! Home grown Coriander? I’m impressed. Would love to hear your tips on growing this, it’s a herb I always struggle with. Thanks for a great post, looking forward to testing it 🙂

    • Hi Amy, and thank you for your comments on the recipe.

      Coriander is a bit tricky to grow as it has a habit of bolting when under stress (such as exposure to drought or extreme heat). It’s best to sow the seeds directly into the soil as it is a plant that doesn’t like being moved, in a position where it will get both sun and shade during the course of the day. It needs to be watered during dry spells, and succession sowing every 3-4 weeks will give you a crop throughout the entire growing season. Eventually, each coriander plant will naturally run to seed, which can then be collected for sowing next year.


  13. Had this soup for lunch today and it was absolutely delicious, thank you so much. So easy to make too, no onions to chop! I shall continue to make it until the last of the organic local tomatoes at the farmers market runs out (which must surely be soon, we’re very lucky in SW UK) and freeze a portion to brighten up a midwinters day. I want to try the paratha too but today I was busy making 2 soups, this one and a more traditional kiddy friendly one.


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