This recipe comes from the Whole Foods Cookbook, which I've had for 2 winters now. Last year I made about 5 soup recipes from the book but for some reason I skipped over this one. I think it was because I had no idea what mung beans were and just the name "mung beans" reminded me of "dung beetle" and as such, the whole thing seemed unappetizing. But a couple days ago I was looking through the book again and came across the recipe and this time actually read it. I was hooked the moment I saw that the soup was flavored with some of my favorite Indian spices - cumin and garam masala. The recipe seemed easy and interesting so I decided to give it a try. But first I had to track down these crazy mung beans.
Aren't they cute? I decided to just head over to Whole Foods Market, even though parking there is a huge pain in the ass, because they are one of the only stores in my area that sells some of the more tricky to find and exotic ingredients. I knew they would have them. So the mung beans are about the size of a lentil and according to the cookbook they are commonly used in Indian cooking. It describes the flavor as mellow and notes that the flesh is orange but with a skin that's either green, yellow or black.
With the mung beans taken care of, I gathered the rest of my ingredients.
1 cup dried mung beans, washed and rinsed
5 cups cold water or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
4 teaspoons canola oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 or 3 large tomatoes, chopped
a 2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
2 or 3 serrano peppers, very thinly sliced (do not remove the seeds)
1 cup coconut milk
2 medium or 1 large chicken breast (optional)
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
salt to taste
juice of 1 lemon
Place the mung beans in a pot with the 5 cups of cold water. Bring to a simmer and cook until beans are tender. (Do not boil. I cannot stress this enough. Just a gentle simmer. The recipe says to cook the beans for about 40 minutes, but mine were done in about 25. But this is likely because I cooked them at too high a temperature, and as such my beans were not tender so much as they were mushy. Not that it affects the flavor, but I would think the soup would have been better if the beans were a little firmer.)
Meanwhile, combine the turmeric, cumin, curry powder, and garam masala and set aside.
Then in a large soup pot, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onions until soft. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the garlic, tomatoes, and the ginger. Saute for a minute or so.
Add the combined spices and the sliced serrano pepper and saute for another minute. Next add the beans and their cooking liquid to the pot with the vegetables and spices. Add the coconut milk and the chicken breast, if using. You might need to add another cup ot two of water, if the soup seems a little thick. Simmer the soup uncovered for 15 minutes. Remove the chicken breast from the soup and let cool for a little bit before shredding. Add the chicken back to the soup.
Stir in the cilantro, season with salt and pepper and serve with a wedge of lemon.
The soup is a great way for the home cook to indulge in those fantastic Indian spices and flavors without having to commit to one of those very lengthy curries or what have you. Also, since there is no ghee in it, it's actually very healthy as well. I have to say, though, the soup was not what I would call spicy, but this may be cause I removed the seeds from the chilies, which I would not do next time. And as for the mung beans - very similar to lentils. If mung beans are difficult to find, lentils might be a suitable substitute. The soup is hearty and the coconut milk adds a little bit of richness but without making the soup overbearingly creamy, while the cilantro and lemon juice add a nice, bright freshness. It would be great with a little naan and some nice sweet chutney.