The heft we associate with Indian cuisine—heavy with spices, rich with chilies and chunks of meat—is just one iteration of the nation's cuisine. That of the North.
Head south to Goa—a small state on the Arabian sea and the source of our inspiration for this simple lentil soup—and the food becomes lighter, brighter.
The distinction lies in the lingering influence of the Portuguese, who arrived with the spice trade in the 15th century and didn’t grant Goa back to India until 1961.
In both technique and ingredients, they left behind an indelible culinary mark—adding the chilies, potatoes, tomatoes, pineapples and vinegar from their colonies across the New World. Vindaloo, for instance, comes from the Portuguese carne de vinha d’alhos, or meat with wine-vinegar and garlic sauce.
For our Goan lentil curry, known as masoor dal, we kept its traditional tropical flavors, but simplified it into a one-pot soup.
Most Indian recipes call for blooming spices in oil as an initial step that draws deeper flavors from them. We streamlined, instead cooking turmeric, coriander, fennel and mustard seeds with the onions. The result was a milder, more pleasant layer of spice that still captured its essence.
A shot of lime juice cut through the richness of the split red lentils, which cook in minutes. Red pepper flakes added a touch of heat, but the coconut milk balances it nicely. We also topped our soup with tomato for gentle hit of acid.
Our addition of spinach was a nontraditional outlier, but it added green herbal notes that complemented the lentils and richness of the coconut milk.