Halfway to the metro stop is an Indian grocery shop, open until the small hours. I pop in for milk and butter and get distracted by yellow split peas, coconut oil, natural peanut butter, things that can’t be found in French supermarkets. Plantains, orange flower water. Large bags of hazelnuts and almonds are much cheaper too. I stock up on grilled and salted corn kernels, for the new English flatmate and I are addicted, and crystallised ginger.
There is always a friendly word and a smile. Once they added a jar of ginger-garlic paste to my bag as a gift. It is a perfect pick-me-up for a nearly bare fridge, with stir-fried cabbage or chicken or chickpeas. Yesterday I bought red lentils for a kitchen cupboard soup. Squash keep well for a long time, and even make a nice decoration. Chicken stock (from the freezer) really rounds out the flavour for a satisfying rich taste. Everything else came from the cupboard. I baked the squash before going out in the morning, then barely needed half an hour before lunch to make a hearty meal.
I was worried it would be boring, but the soup had depth, sweet and spicy. The lentils make it filling, needing only a baguette with some blue cheese for sharp contrast. And it was a perfect autumn colour.
Obviously you can use fresh garlic and fresh ginger, but it is useful to have a jar of ginger-garlic paste and a jar of curry paste on hand. Peek into the Indian grocery stores around La Chapelle and Gare du Nord for inspiration.
Butternut, lentil and ginger soup
1 butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
1 tsp madras curry paste
200g (1 cup) red lentils
125 ml (1/2 cup) white wine
750ml (3 cups) chicken stock
salt and pepper
Peel and thickly slice butternut squash. Bake in a 200C oven with a little olive oil and salt until soft and caramelised around the edges.
Roughly chop the onions, sautee in olive oil until translucent. Add the ginger and garlic paste and garam masala, stir for a minute. Add the lentils and let them toast for a minute as well. Pour in the white wine and chicken stock. Cover and let simmer until the lentils are cooked through. It won’t take long. Meanwhile, cut up the roasted squash, then add to cooked lentils.
Blend everything together (careful not to burn yourself on the hot liquid/steam). Taste and season with salt and pepper. You may need to add up to 250ml extra water depending on how thick you like it.
Serve with crusty bread and a sharp cheese.