You might have noticed a decrease in food-related posts around here over the past several months. That’s because I haven’t been cooking. It’s not that I no longer enjoy cooking, because I do. And I certainly still enjoy eating. I just don’t really have the time I used to have. My favorite times to cook are Sunday afternoons or late at night any day, and I spend most of my nights at my boyfriend’s these days. (He doesn’t really have a functional kitchen or usable fridge. It’s a long story.)
But today I felt like cooking. I had the afternoon, and couldn’t think of anything I’d be happier doing than making some food (while watching The Good Wife, which is awesome and you should watch it too). We never have much in the way of staples, which can make finding a recipe that doesn’t require epic shopping a challenge, but today we happened to have a bag of red lentils from the farmer’s market sitting there waiting to be eaten. So I made soup.
In college, lentil soup from The Nile – or maybe it was Cedars, I honestly can’t remember – comprised about 25% of my diet. You see, I spent huge swathes of time doing homework in Uncle Joe’s, a campus coffee shop which, like all our campus coffee shops, contracted with local restaurants to stock cheap and filling microwaveable meals. One of the Middle Eastern restaurants in the neighborhood kept the coffee shops rolling deep in red lentil soup and pita, which I ate as an all-purpose between meals snack whenever I was both in a coffee shop and between meals. This time could roughly be defined as “between all meals.” So it was a real treat for me today to cook up a pot of red lentil soup that resembled the lentil soup of my college days.
For the recipe, I turned to 101 Cookbooks. Heidi Swanson, the mind behind that blog, is one of food blogging’s biggest stars since her cookbooks, Super Natural Cooking and Super Natural Every Day, became immensely popular. Super Natural Every Day in particular has practically gone viral in the cooking community, with bloggers cooking and raving about her stuff left and right. I personally am not as big a fan since Heidi’s food skews heavily towards the crunchy-hippie, lots of different flours, and always meatless variety, and I tend to prefer recipes that a) contain meat and b) contain ingredients I have in the house. But if I want a vegetarian recipe, like for lentil soup, Heidi is the first place I go. For tonight’s dinner I used her red lentil soup with lemon.
In terms of cooking tips and tricks, I have a very important one: turmeric stains everything it touches. So be careful with that. When you blend the soup, try to keep from splashing or you’ll have turmeric (read: neon yellow) spots all over your stove. The recipe suggests serving the soup with spinach, yogurt and brown rice or some other grain, but I didn’t do this as I am not a big “extraneous starch” person. (I feel strongly about potatoes, and my mom’s Brazilian-style rice, but other than that I can pretty much take starch or leave it.) And anyway, lentils are close enough to a starch in… psychological outlook … that I would have felt weird adding rice or quinoa or farro. I have no idea what farro is. It might be the grain form of the old Egyptian kings. I am really just naming grains at this point.
Also, if you’re going to rinse red lentils – which you have to – you’re going to want to use a fine mesh strainer. You’re not going to want to try other methods. Just trust me on this one.
Notes and Verdicts
Red Lentil Soup with Lemon by 101 Cookbooks
Notes: I only made a few small modifications to the recipe. For one, I used about 2 1/2 cups of lentils since that’s what I had, and correspondingly upped my water to 8-ish cups. I did not use cumin, because it is the devil’s spice and ruins everything it touches, and I only used the juice of two lemons since by that time it tasted quite lemony enough. Otherwise I followed the recipe to the letter.
Verdict: This was really nice, guys, and very very forgiving. I burned it a tiny bit, because I’m a dumb, but that just gave it some depth of flavor. (I guess it was browned more than burned.) I tried with and without the yogurt and in my opinion it doesn’t need it, but I encourage you to experiment! Overall, it’s not perfect, but it’s tasty. This soup gets an A-.