Thursday, September 16, 2010

mental fruit


There is this Dead Prez song that’s about being vegetarian and one of the lines goes “lentil soup is mental fruit.” Now I’m not vegetarian, or even particularly familiar with the rest of that song; however, try to get that sentence out of your head when you’re making lentil soup. I found myself really wishing I knew more of the lyrics to that song.


I was at the grocery store and I felt like I should buy lentils, despite the fact that my experience with them is extremely limited and I had no particular idea what I would do with them once I got them home. I just decided I want to be the kind of person that has lentils in their pantry. Just like I want to be the kind of woman who puts her keys/phone/chapstick in the same compartment in her purse every time and doesn’t stand there rummaging for 35 minutes every time she needs something. You know, an organized person. I want to be that kind of person. The desire is there, it’s just the execution upon which I falter.

So I found myself in the grocery store thinking “ah yes, lentils.” And then I was like “oooh cute red ones!” I would figure out what to do with them eventually. So last Thursday I went to the Google and I asked the Great and Powerful One for all of its knowledge on red lentil soup recipes. It’s turned a bit chilly and decidedly fall-like here so soup seemed like a fitting choice. I adapted this recipe very slightly from one I found in the New York Times (or on? The New York Times? Can it be “in” if you didn’t actually open up a physical newspaper?). Long story short I made this soup and it was, as my mom would (embarrassingly) say, the bomb diggity. I will be making this again and again for the duration of soup season. Not only is it cheap, cheap, cheap. It’s also really not bad for you at all. There’s only 3 tablespoons of oil in the whole pot and lentils are a whole grain (I think) and everything else is just spices and everybody knows cooking with spices makes you thin. For me, after a summer filled with indulgence and (way, way, way too much) white wine, this soup fits right in to my “rediscovering healthy food” fall agenda.


One package red lentils, picked over for stones, etc.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tsp. garam masala
2-3 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. coriander
1-2 tsp. turmeric
2 healthy pinches of cayenne

Chicken (or vegetable) stock
Juice from half a lemon


Heat oil in a large heavy bottom sauce pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and sweat until golden. The original recipe suggests 4 minutes, but I went the extra step and cooked mine for about 15 minutes, almost caramelizing them. I think it added a little something. Add garlic and sauté for another few minutes, until fragrant, stirring often so as not to scorch. Add tomato pasta and all of the spices (through the cayenne). Stir together for a minute or two to meld the flavors. Pour in lentils and toss everything together, top with chicken stock to cover (about 2 quarts I would guess). At this point the recipe told me to simmer it for about 30 minutes until the lentils were tender but I did not read that, assumed that the lentils would need to be boiled, cranked it up and walked away. About 5-10 minutes later I turned the heat down and let it simmer. You can take either route. Even though it was a mistake for me to boil them, the soup turned out great and it sort of made my lentils mushy and fall apart, which I thought was fine and saved me the step or pureeing half the soup as the directions told me to do.


Once the lentils are cooked, THEN you add salt and pepper. Apparently if you add salt before the lentils cook, they get a little chewy. This needed a LOT of additional zest and spice at this point in the game. I added a very generous amount of salt, cracked black pepper and then two big squeezes of Siracha (Thai chili sauce, available everywhere in the hot sauce or ethnic food section). Then I would taste, add a touch more salt, a little more pepper, another small squeeze of Siracha. At the end, you finish the soup with the juice from half and lemon. Both the chili sauce and the lemon juice really brightened this soup up. I did not expect it to be so good but (not to toot my own horn *toot* *toot*) it WAS, in the words of my No. 1 Taster “unreal.” I ate it for lunch the next day and we had it again for dinner on Sunday night. This recipe is one to put on regular rotation for sure.


So yeah…tis the time of year when it starts getting dark before dinner is done and my photos start to suck again. I don’t really have a solution for this yet. Well, I do but it would involve quitting my day job and last time I checked “food blogger” was pretty much synonymous with “unemployed” and offered nil benefits; so, until Publisher’s Clearing House shows up we’ll all just have to deal with the seasonal shifts in aesthetics here at Porky D.


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