Thursday, March 5, 2009

There Are No Coincidences

In rereading Laurie Colwin's essay collections Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, both written before her premature death in 1992, I am struck by how relevant her writing is today. In writing about food, and particularly, mealtime, in the introduction to More Home Cooking, she writes "I know that young children will wander away from the table, and that family life is never smooth, and that life itself is full, not only of charm and warmth and comfort but of sorrow and tears. But whether we are happy or sad, we must be fed. Both happy and sad people can be cheered up by a nice meal." In commenting on the difficulties facing families in which both parents work long hours, she says "These are hard times for people who like to eat, who like to cook and who hate to do both but need to. Our present economic system leaves us pressed, drained, exhausted, and yet...and yet we still need sustenance, and contact." Certainly words to think about, as we children of privilege navigate our way through this economic tornado.

This recipe evolved from a Melissa Clark column in the Dining section of the New York Times last year. In it, she described a red lentil soup she tasted at a friend's dinner party. She altered the friend's recipe a bit, and I altered hers a bit. It's an interesting and surprisingly delicious soup - sort of wintry, but sort of spring-y with it's burst of lemon. Fitting for this week as the snow melts into what we hope will be a spring weekend.

I had never used red lentils before I made this soup. In fact, I'd never even heard of them. And, I'd only used bulgur years earlier in the stuffed peppers recipe found on the Old World brand box and once, in an ill-received attempt at tabbouleh. Not that my version was bad, but we found that no one in the family actually liked the strong taste of so much parsley. Oh, and there was the Cooking Light bulgur salad with chickpeas and dried cranberries that my family hated so much that they renamed the grain "vulgar." My recipes are vetted by a tough crowd!

I have found red lentils in the bulk area at Whole Foods and at my local organic market (MOM!) The red lentils are without the hull or casing that you generally see on brown and green lentils, so as they cook, they fall apart. Not so great in most dishes, but, as Melissa Clark notes, perfect for this soup.

Bulgur or bulgur wheat, a staple in Middle Eastern cooking, is wheat kernels that have been steamed, dried and crushed. For anyone with gluten issues, I'm pretty sure bulgur is a no-no. If so, just leave it out of the recipe. The soup will be fine without it.

I have been pretty lucky lately in finding low or no salt stocks at Trader Joe's and even in some of the regular grocery stores near me, such as Safeway and Harris Teeter. For sure Whole Foods and the organic markets and coops should have them. If your store does not carry them, I recommend you ask about it at customer service as I've found that when I've asked about items in the past, they will sometimes try to acquire them if they perceive there's enough interest.

Red Lentil Soup
(serves 4)

(adapted from Melissa Clark)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
pinch of ground chili powder or cayenne
1 quart low or no salt added chicken or vegetable broth
3 cups water
1 cup red lentils
1/4 cup bulgur
juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste (can add some zest too)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (I leave this out as we don't care for cilantro or you can substitute parsley).

1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add onion and saute until starting to brown, about 5 minutes.

2. Add garlic and carrots and saute several minutes more.

3. Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper, and chili powder or cayenne and sauté a few minutes more.

4. Add broth, water, lentils and bulgur. Bring to a simmer then partially cover pot and simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes.

5. Using an immersion blender or regular blender or food processor, puree half the soup then add it back to the pot ( I have actually skipped this step and the soup was fine).

6. Stir in lemon juice and cilantro, if using. Taste and add more lemon juice and/or salt if necessary. Melissa Clark suggests serving the soup drizzled with good olive oil. I'm sure that would be great, but I feel there is enough olive oil in the recipe and usually garnish with some toasted pepitas or a tiny crumble of whole grain tortilla chips.

Serve with a green salad and a hearty grain bread (lightly spread with goat cheese if you're feeling fiesty)

No comments:

Post a Comment