Brown Lentil Soup | Food Photo Styling Misery

by - June 18, 2014

The two weeks' challenge ofwalk/run went quite well. I missed two days in between but it has helped me ease back into running. One of the things I love about running is how it puts my eating habits to place. I know hitting the gym/running track actually gives us an excuse to eat a doughnut or binge on chocolate. It’s the same with me as well. But after few days of wayward eating (check mangocream pudding and spiced orange popovers), I slowly come back to healthier meals. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in occasional treats. The issue is the actual frequency of these occasional treats. 

Listing the recipes I've shared here was also a major eye opener. I actually have more salad / soup recipes on my Instagram feed than on my blog. Why so? Food styling and photography. I struggle a lot when it comes to these two

There are days when I just don’t care about the photo and then there are days when I want a good photograph no matter what. Today was such a day. 

While idling away on Pinterest after watching a video on how to beat procrastination, I came across this beautifully written post on food photography and I loved how Bakers Royale explained the importance of composition. Absolutely inspiring! 

Since I I had plans to cook and photograph brown lentil soup today – this is a staple in our house and I felt the need to share before Ramadan - I decided to practice right away. And so, while the soup was getting cooked, I tried styling and putting a background together with every thing I had read in mind. 

I started scrounging my shelves and looking for things I hadn't used before. Since the soup was brownish, I felt the red in my saree would help. 

The dessert bowls have been in my kitchen for over eight years and never used. I felt good. I had a really good feeling. (I did notice the smudges by the way)

Finally the soup was ready and with a plate of garnish and few extra props, I clicked couple of photos.  

They were yuck! Who would try the recipe after seeing those photos! I ditched the bowls (never liked them anyway) and bring out the red soup bowl.

No, not impressed. 
Truth is I was impatient and didn't wait until the soup reached the desired consistency. So I put it back on stove and decided to give it few more minutes. Then the following happened. 
Too busy. 

Maybe not too busy. 

Yes too busy. Get rid of the saree! At this point I was sweaty and tired.

The same old tea towel and bowls from Ikea and the same old close ups. No elaborately styled photos I was aiming for. I give up. I spent a good hour in my living room trying to photograph a soup when I should actually be working in my studio

Maybe I am over thinking it. Or maybe, this is my style. 

So why am I sharing this process? I am trying to keep it real. Contrary to popular belief, food photography is no easy business. It takes a lot of practice and patience, loads of trial and errors. Next time someone rolls their eyes saying 'you have way too much time on your hands', I am going to link them to this post. 

So let's get to the recipe? As I stated earlier, this is a staple in our house and loved by everyone. I came across the recipe couple of Ramadans ago on dimasharif(dot)com and have been making it since. I've made few minor changes but it still remains a tasty and heart warming soup - one of the best dishes to break your fast with. 

Brown Lentil Soup (Recipe Inspired by Dima Sharif)
Serves – 2 adults + 2 children.

1 cup of brown lentils 
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic crushed and chopped
1 tsp ground garam masala
Generous pinch of ground turmeric
1 tbsp ground black pepper
Pinch of table salt - be careful if you are using store bought stock
3 cups of stock (please see notes)
1 cup of water
Keep aside slices of one green chilli and a grated garlic clove aside for garnish.

Soak the lentils for 20-30 minutes. Wash and drain. 
Heat olive oil in a deep bottomed pan or pressure cooker. 
Add ground garam masala and when they sizzle, quickly add chopped onions and garlic.
Add a pinch of salt, turmeric and keep stirring the onions and garlic. 
Once they are brown and tender, add the lentils. 
Stir in ground pepper.
Pour in stock and water and let it come to a boil. 
Cover with a lid and leave it on simmer until it's cooked. If you are using a pressure cooker, about 3-4 whistles should do. 
Check seasoning and add anything you feel necessary. 
Garnish with green chilli slices, grated raw garlic.
Serve with toasted brown bread. Enjoy! 

Whenever I make chicken samosas, I save the remaining water and bones to make a basic stock - chuck in whole spices, turmeric, ground pepper and simmer for 30 minutes. You could take it up a notch by adding onions, carrots, celery etc. 
This is not a creamy soup. Depending on the consistency you like, you can add more or reduce amount of stock/water. 

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  1. Yes, it's extremely frustrating to get a shot just the way you see it in your head especially when you have to make do with the space & situation you have .... but I love it just the same! Kudos for sharing all the pics! :)

  2. Great step by step journey - well done for persevering. The final shots are gorgeous as the light catches the top of the soup and highlights the lovely texture.

    1. Perseverance. Yes, food blogging requires a lot of perseverance. Thank you Sally. :)

  3. I liked the 3rd of the last photos. The frustration I feel on food styling discourages me from posting anything, I think my main problem is that I don't plan before hand. I cook and take a photo - that's it, always in a hurry.
    Thanks for reminding me that I should plan ahead.

    1. I do the same when I take phone photos, but for blog I prefer DSLR and a bit of planning.

  4. Nice post Nielouphar! Can almost relate to this... how much ever I try, I come up with the photos I am not impressed with. I love how you explained the whole process. Photos without the saree look good.

  5. Some days, it just doesn't work does it?? Yet, I have to say the red saree does make for a pretty back drop :). By the way, what exactly are brown lentils? Can we get them in India?

    1. I am not sure what they are called in Malayalam. :D They are disc shaped and brownish green in colour. I am sure you will find them in India.

    2. Nice attempt neelu and love your post..I am like make and click by phone. .don't have the patience for elaborate preps..
      The lentil u are using is called whole masoor daal in the yummy flavor of this lentil

    3. Thank you Lavina! Yes, I love the nutty flavor of brown lentils. They don't turn mushy easily which is my favorite part. xx

  6. And yes kaali daal is always yummy .

  7. YOur post made me smile....taking photos of crafts is relatively easy compared to food photography and yeah I agree it definitely looks more appetising without the saree!!
    Dr Sonia

  8. Perseverance always pays off, well done Neelu. The final shot is gorgeous, definitely worth the effort.
    And what a great looking soup that is, a total winner!

  9. A really beautiful & honest post. Loved how you shared the entire process and found myself nodding in agreement..yes that's exactly how we all feel when shooting for a blog post...exciting, irritating, fun, painful all at the same time...your last shot is indeed a labour of love

  10. Looks yummy. I don't like overstyled pics.

  11. I love this post - So glad I stumbled by - food photography is definitely not easy!
    I do love your final photo even though that saree is gorgeous!

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