Isn't this soup festive-looking? I first made red lentil and okra soup in the winter of 2009 after buying some gorgeous okra pods from a farmer's market. I sautéed them with onions and added both to the bubbling pot of soup close to the end of cooking. Not only is the soup hearty and filling, it's also colorful enough to beat the cold weather blues.
As a Chinese-born, New England-bred gal, I first tried okra at the ripe old age of 21. I was aprehensive, having heard okra derided as a bitter, gooey freak-of-a-vegetable (mosty by non-Southerners). Then I tried the Creole okra gumbo and fried okra at the magnificent Magnolia's in Cambridge, MA. What were these okra-haters thinking? These things are addictive!
(I came to the conclusion that the people who despise okra are the same who despise bitter melon. A microscopic bit of bitterness never killed anyone; it just makes the flavor spectrum more interesting.)
Granted, okra isn't just used in Southern Creole-inspired food. Indian, Middle Eastern, Caribbbean, and North African cuisines also incorporate okra in plenty of thick stews. As much as I like fried okra, gumbo and bhindi masala are hearty dishes that make the best use of okra's snappy texture and slightly bitter flavor.
Last week I bought a bunch of beautiful okra pods from the farmer's market. The soup I ended up making for lunch is slightly Indian-influenced, with some crushed vegetable chips sprinkled on top for some crunch.
Red Lentil and Okra Soup
- 1/2 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked through
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup chopped okra
- 1/2 large red onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
- 3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- Optional: Crushed vegetable or tortilla chips (I used Terra Chips' Exotic Chips blend)
- Combine the lentils and water in a medium pot and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer and cook, uncovered, until lentils are soft enough to fall apart, about 20 to 25 minutes.
- While the lentils are cooking, heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pan over medium heat. Sauté the onions until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the okra and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes. Transfer the onions and okra to the pot of lentils. Stir in the paprika and cayenne or red pepper flakes. Add the salt and adjust to taste.
- Transfer the soup to individual bowls. Garnish with optional crushed vegetable or tortilla chips and serve hot.
Recipe first published Jan. 4, 2009, revised November 27, 2012