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Try India’s chicken noodle soup

It’s a bit of good luck that my kids will so readily eat lentils.

The quick-cooking pulses can encompass any combination of vegetables — with just a little meat — and my 8- and 5-year-old sons will gobble it up. The soup featured in this week’s food section is just one example of countless variations on the concept.

Although they go down easy, lentils are still a little offbeat in many American households. So I encouraged readers with this week’s recipe to season a pot of lentils exactly as they like. Think of them like split peas, which are much more familiar on the mainstream Western palate.

Once you feel comfortable with lentils, expand the seasonings into realms that have traditionally paired with the pulses in countries around the world. This stew is so harmoniously seasoned that it’s often among the first solid foods that babies eat in the author’s native Mubai. Indeed, Hari Pulapaka characterizes it as the “chicken-noodle soup of India.”

A mealtime tonic, Khichidi is another example of a versatile canvas for wholesome ingredients. Use brown rice instead of white. Black-eyed peas or lima beans could replace the green peas or edamame, particularly seasoned with a Cajun kick. Bonus points for repurposing leftovers, as I touted in this week’s column.


Tribune News Service photo

Olive or vegetable oil, as needed

1 small onion, peeled and diced

1/2 cup carrots, diced

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup cremini mushrooms, chopped

2 green chiles or 1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and minced

Salt, to taste

1 cup green, brown or red lentils, rinsed and drained

1 teaspoon turmeric

4 cups vegetable stock

1 cup rice, rinsed several times and soaked

1/4 cup edamame or green peas

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon cayenne or red chili powder

Pinch of ground asafoetida (substitute: onion and garlic powders)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

Suggested: fresh curry leaves, generally available at Indian markets

Limes wedges, for serving

Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving

In a shallow pot with a proper lid, heat some of the oil and saute the onions, carrots, ginger, bay leaf, mushrooms and chiles over medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Season with some of the salt; add the lentils and turmeric. Cook for about 15 minutes more, stirring frequently.

Add the rice and edamame or peas, stir well, season with salt, then add stock. Taste to ensure it is seasoned to your liking. Cover pot reduce heat — low to medium — and cook for 20 minutes.

Open lid once at end to ensure lentils are cooked.

This is the tadka, or tempering, stage: Heat some oil in small pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the peppercorns, cayenne, asafoetida, cumin seeds and curry leaves, if using. Fry for about 15 seconds. Pour everything, including infused oil, over rice and lentils. Gently mix.

Serve with a wedge of the lime and garnished with the cilantro. A dollop of yogurt is a nice optional garnish, as well.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe from “Dreaming in Spice: A Sinfully Vegetarian Odyssey,” by Hari Pulapaka.