Friday, March 17, 2006

Rainy day lentil soup

Today it rained out of the blue. Didn’t read the weather reports. Had no idea it was going to piss. But it did. And I sat around the house, not writing, hungry and cold. And then I figured I’d do something about it. I pulled out my Xerox copy of the soups from the Convent Garden Soup book and turned to my favorite; Lentil and Tomato soup with cumin and coriander.

I am not a good cook. Much of what I attempt turns out, if it turns out at all, not what it could be. But with lentil soup I seem to have a modicum of touch. It turns out tasty more time than not, which for me is a success.

My theory is that in a past life, I lived somewhere on the Levant. All my life I’ve been drawn to things Mediterranean: the food, the music, the colors, the smells, the men.

My favorite recipe is easy, and almost impossible to foul up. Except that I did once because I used chicken broth instead of vegetable broth. It tasted awful and I couldn’t figure out why until I pulled the broth container out of the trash. That’ll teach me to cook while divorcing.

Pay Attention!

2 tablespoons olive oil.
1 medium onion, finely chopped.
¾ teaspoon ground coriander
¾ teaspoon ground tumeric
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
pinch of ground cloves
1 and ¼ cup red lentils, well-washed and picked over
14 oz chopped tomatoes (in a can, silly)
2 pints vegetable stock (one Trader Joe’s box of veggie stock)
fresh coriander leaves
sea salt and ground black pepper

First, you must rinse the lentils. Measure them out and put them in a bowl. Run water over them and scoop them around with your hand, drain, and repeat until the water runs clear. This might take five minutes or so. But it’s an important step if you don’t want brown scum in your soup. You don’t know where these lentils have been.

Drain the lentils, set aside.

Chop a medium onion (or half a large one) as finely as possible. Even with the fabulous Wusthof chef’s knife Luke got me for my birthday I can’t manage fine chopping of any kind. This wouldn’t surprise my kindergarten teacher. I could never neatly cut anything. I content myself with medium chop. You go ahead and try for fine.

Sauté covered for five minutes. Don’t burn it. That means keep the flame on medium, watch it, and stir occasionally.

You have to try hard to overspice lentil soup.

Add the spices. I round up to one teaspoon per spice. You have to try hard to overspice lentil soup. For that pinch of clove, I crush two or three cloves with the back of my knife and stir that in.

Add the carton of vegetable stock. I use Trader Joe’s brand because it’s good and because it’s convenient. If you want to use your own stock, I applaud your ambition. Using those Herb Ox cubes will diminish the potential of your lentil soup. Just run out and buy a can of veggie stock, would you? Learn from my mistakes.

Add the lentils. Stir. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes until lentils are tender, then add the can of tomatoes. Stir again. Simmer some more. Season with lots of ground black pepper and salt.

The original recipe calls for pureeing this liquid with the fresh coriander leaves, and adding a little sauté with fresh green chili. I never do this, and it still turns out OK.

I dish this up with toasted pita bread and a dollop of plain yoghurt. Let the pita bread get soggy in there. Num!

Many lentil soups improve in texture and flavor after they’ve sat in the fridge for a day or two. This is definitely one of those soups. A pot of this will make you a dinner and two happy lunches.

Bon appetite!

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