The new year arrived with no fanfare. Instead we were early to bed and as late as possible to rise. I’m not one for big events on the last evening of December and, in a way, it was relaxing to not think too much about hopes, changes, or goals for 2014. Instead I have been thinking about rearranging some of the furniture and rooms of our apartment. It’s true, Amos and I have been cooped up like chickens and the forecast indicates that it is only going to colder, to the point where anything much above zero is a heat wave. So, today, when the temperatures reach double digits (before the arctic plunge that is due to arrive this weekend) we will try to get outside, even just for a few minutes of fresh air.
In the meantime, I’ve been making lots of soup. It is something that can be so simple, so forgiving and so welcoming of all manner of ingredients and bits of leftovers, but I am quite picky when it comes to soup. I don’t like often like soups that are very brothy, I prefer them pureed, thick so they almost stick to the spoon. Most often the soups that I make keep their focus on one vegetable or ingredient, accented with perhaps a few others and some spices for good measure.
I recently realized that the most satisfying, warming soups are the kinds that don’t require a trip to a store. The steaming pot that I can pull together with only the ingredients that I already have in the cupboard and the refrigerator. Lately, lentils have been the star in a favorite soup that is hearty, delicious and satisfying in all the best ways. This is the soup we ate in between making batches of peppermint bark and shipping Christmas packages. In the midst of a busy, tired, hectic day or week, it comes together with little work and does so much to revive and nourish you when you finally sit down to a warm bowl.
If, in January, you need a break from foods that are rich and sweet this soup will fill you up without a hint of austerity. Instead of feeling deprived or virtuous, you might feel grateful for simple, warm sustenance, just like I did.
I adapted this recipe from Melissa Clark’s Red Lentil Soup with Lemon . I’ve made it with brown or red lentils. I always add plenty of carrots and sometimes add a few potatoes. Soup is wonderfully flexible so you can adjust as you need to but with this recipe I always use the onions, garlic, tomato paste and cumin to give it a great base of flavor. I have to confess that I rarely have vegetable broth on hand so I usually just use water. I know that is probably very bad soup making, but if you have the broth your soup will be even better and if you don’t, well, the soup will still be really good.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 med-large onion
2-3 cloves garlic
3-4 medium small carrots
1-2 medium red or yellow potatoes (optional)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
a few sprinkles of cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
1 quart of chicken or vegetable broth or water
1 cup red or brown lentils
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Place a soup pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil. While the pot and oil warm, dice the onion and mince the garlic. Add them to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are golden and the garlic very fragrant. Dice the carrots and potatoes. After the onions and garlic have cooked for 3-4 minutes, add the tomato, cumin, salt, pepper and cayenne. Cook for two minutes and then add the carrots and potatoes and stir a few times. Pour in the broth or water and add the lentils. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook, simmering, for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are soft. Puree half of the soup and stir the rest of the soup with the puree. Taste to adjust seasonings. Add the cilantro shortly before serving.
Makes about 4 bowls of soup.