Curried Lentil Soup

September 22, 2014

 

Nobody really sings the praises of the lowly lentil. They just aren’t very sexy, are they? They’re cheap. They’re easy. They’re (usually) brown. And they taste like…well…sorta nothing, right?

That’s sort of a legume problem in general–beans are a blank canvas.

I’d argue, however, that maybe that’s the hidden charm of legumes. Those little devils are just daring you to break out your creative juices.

“Hi there, it’s us again,” they wave from the pantry shelf. “Your little kitchen workhorses. What’s it going to be this time? A Southwestern chili? Some Cajun one-pot wonder? Something with coconut milk and a little Peruvian flair? Let’s fuel up the old imagination, shall we?”

Often, when it’s lentils I’m looking at, I’ll choose some sort of soup-type concoction. I was particularly lucky this week, when I was in a soupy frame of mind and realized that I had red lentils on hand. Red lentils (often used in Indian cooking) are the supermodels of the lentil world–small and bright and pretty. Not boring at all, trust me.

I decided to veer a little off the beaten path and use Thai curry paste in this soup, but I used ginger and cumin and coconut milk, so the resulting soup still had sort of an Indian flair.

It was full of warm spice and flavor without being spicy at all; you won’t need a fire extinguisher with this one, although you can add red pepper flakes for extra kick if you like. I actually ended up doing that with the leftovers, which I served with rice later in the week.

While I won’t say this dish is drop-dead sexy, I will say that it’s lovely and comforting and well, maybe just a little sexy. And super easy. Easy is good for this family right now, because we are full-throttle crazy with beginning-of-school activities and meetings and adjustments.

I think the one hardest hit by all of the hustle and change is this poor little guy.

He misses the girls terribly during the day and as late afternoon hits, he begins pacing around the front door, waiting for their return.

Ah, who am I kidding? I’m waiting, too.

March on, Fall. March on.

Curried Lentil Soup

serves 4-6

1 large clove garlic

1 tablespoon peeled fresh ginger, coarsely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks

2 ribs celery, sliced into chunks

2 shallots, quartered

2 cups fire-roasted canned tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil or butter

2-4 teaspoons red curry paste (you can find this in the Asian section of your supermarket)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked over to remove any pebbles

1 quart reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 cup coconut milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Cilantro leaves and/or plain Greek yogurt for garnish, if desired

In a food processor, pulse garlic, ginger, carrot, celery and shallot until coarsely chopped.

Heat oil or butter in a heavy 4-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable mixture and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes or until softened. Add the curry paste and cumin and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add tomatoes, lentils, chicken broth, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring the soup to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook until the lentils break down, about 30 minutes.

Depending on the texture you prefer, puree half the soup in a blender (in batches) or use an immersion blender OR puree entire batch if you like a creamy soup with no chunks.

Season with salt and pepper. If soup is too thick, thin with water or broth.

If desired, top with chopped cilantro and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Post to Twitter

{ 13 comments }

New Jag Salad

September 15, 2014

“People have tried and they have tried, but sex is not better than sweet corn.” -Garrison Keillor

 

Many moons ago, I wrote this post, confessing to being a “jag eater.”  If you don’t feel like plundering the archives, I’ll give you the basic jist: a “jag eater” is someone who gets a little obsessed with a certain food for a period of time. As in, wanting to eat it daily obsessed. In my teens and twenties, I was a serious jag eater; I could make a huge pot of ratatouille or red beans and rice and eat it daily, week after week.

As I’ve gotten older, the jags have gotten fewer and farther between, but once in a while, I’ll fall in love with something and Bam! Just like that, I’m on a jag.

At the beginning of summer, I made this salad, and after the first bite, I immediately boarded the Jag Wagon.  I’ve been making huge batches of this salad and munching away on it all week, all summer long. I’m even eating the stuff for breakfast, much to my husband’s horror.

His horror won’t have to last much longer, since the success and deliciousness of this salad depends on summer ingredients like farm-fresh green beans and corn, and let’s face it, the end is near (sob!) for those sorts of things.

For some of you, it might be over already–parts of South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado have already seen some snow! Hopefully, though, most of you have a few more blessed weeks of summer produce.

So get crackin’, people! Make this big bowl of yumminess while you still can. I can attest that it keeps well in the refrigerator for several days, so if you become  a little enamored with this salad, like I did, you have some happy eating in store for you.

 

 

Green Bean, Sweet Corn and Feta Salad

serves 4 (but recipe can easily be doubled or tripled, if you are on a jag)

 

8 ounces very thin, fresh green beans

2-3 ears of fresh sweet corn, shucked

1 small shallot, chopped

1/2 cup good-quality feta cheese, crumbled

3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons toasted pecans, chopped (optional)

a good glug of your favorite raspberry vinaigrette (I actually use Brianna’s Blush Wine Vinaigrette, one of the few bottled dressings I like)

 

Cook and Shock the Green Beans:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook until just crisp-tender, about 5 minutes, depending on the size and freshness of the green beans. Remove the green beans from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge into a big bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Remove with a slotted spoon and pat dry. Cut the green beans into bite-sized pieces.

Add the corn to the boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes. You just want to blanch the corn; it should still be crisp. Plunge corn into the ice water. Drain, pat dry, and remove kernels from the corn cobs with a sharp knife.

Combine beans, corn kernels, shallot, feta, parsley and pecans in a large bowl. Toss with vinaigrette and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Post to Twitter

{ 23 comments }

Boom, Clap

September 9, 2014

Just Write.

 

It was a hard week with my almost-teenaged daughter, a week filled with misunderstandings and hard words and more than a few tears. There was mistrust and resentment and hand-wringing. By the end of the week, I think both of our hearts were battle-scarred and weary and just so…full.  I felt fragile, like I was teetering on a very thin wire, and just the barest nudge would send me tumbling into something deep and scary. I couldn’t find my balance; I just felt off somehow. It’s almost like I’d been split in two, and the heart part of me was running after the rest of my body, struggling to keep up, and it just couldn’t.

Something was going to burst, and finally at the end of the week, it did.  Of course, it burst at the most inopportune and inappropriate of times. I was at a party, for God’s sake–a party full of friends and music and games. An end-of-summer, let’s blow off some steam and have a great time kind of gathering. And there I was, in a corner, unable to stop the flow of tears and heaving of the shoulders.

It was awful and embarrassing, losing myself like that. Once the first tear fell, it’s like the spigot opened, and whoosh! it flooded everything.  It felt scary to me, because I’d been trying so very hard to keep myself in check, to keep the bubble and the roil of feelings carefully contained.

“I’m sorry,” I gasped, swiping at my eyes with a ball of wet tissues. “I didn’t mean to bring this here. I didn’t mean to bring this with me. I should have left it at home, where it belongs.”

***

It’s a new week, and Miss D. clunks down the stairs, freshly showered and clad in a black skirt and a…bright pink shirt.

“Wow, you look really pretty, D.” my husband says, and gives me an eyebrow over his coffee cup.

We have a conversation without saying a word.

What kind of development is this?

I have no idea. Fuckit, as if she tells me anything. I mean–pink! Huh. Where’s the Black Widow?

 

“You do look great,” I say carefully. “That’s a terrific color on you.”

“It’s Spirit Week,” she says, in clipped consonants. “Today is color day. Seventh graders are supposed to wear pink.”

“Even the boys?”

“Yeah. Even the boys.”

It surprises me that she’s willing to participate in Spirit Week, since she has very little “spirit” for school or for seventh grade or for anything, really, as of late.

Half an hour before we’re ready to leave for school, she thunders up to her room. She comes down wearing one of my lightweight over-wraps–the kind of thing I always toss over my shoulders when I’m going to a restaurant that might be over-air conditioned or a place where the weather is uncertain.

It is black.

I can see the bottom half of her pink shirt peeking out underneath it.

I don’t say anything.

I could have said something. I could have said something like, “It’s going to be 80 degrees today, do you really think you need that?” or “Oh, do they keep the school that chilly?” but no, no, I keep my mouth shut.

Ten minutes before we leave, she thunders up to her room again.

When she comes down, she stuffs a black t-shirt into her backpack.

“Backup shirt?” I say, and then hate myself.  Why can’t I just leave it alone?  Stupid, stupid–always opening my big, fat pie-hole.

“In case I get sweaty in gym class,” she says, eyes narrowing and head tilted, daring me to challenge her.

I know better; that’s a look that says do not engage if I ever saw one.

“Smart idea,” I mumble, and busy myself wiping down the countertops.

***

As the car approaches school, D. watches out the window, eyes darting back and forth like a falcon, studying the packs of teenagers funneling into the building.

I know what she’s doing.

I know what she’s watching for, because I’m doing it, too.

I’m studying those kids, waiting to see flashes of pink.

I see cargo shorts, hoodies, sweatshirts. Black. Khaki. Gray. Red and white striped.

C’mon, pink. Somebody’s gotta have something pink on. Show up. Show up.

Shit. Has everyone decided to boycott this thing and D. didn’t get the memo?

We inch up the drop-off queue, scanning and hoping and scanning. Her shoulders get stiffer and she wraps her arms tightly around herself in a protective hug.

Finally, at the last moment, right before she exits the car, we see it. A girl with a mini-skirt and a swingy, pale blond ponytail. A ponytail wrapped in a bright pink ribbon.

D. makes a hard exhale, and I realize I’ve been holding my breath too.

“You look beautiful,” I say. “Have a great day.”

“Hmmp.” She thwacks her backpack over one shoulder and slams the door behind her.

I watch her as she squares her shoulders, straightens her stance and stalks into the building like a wolf–a soldier preparing for battle.

I tear up a little on the drive home.

God, why is it so hard?

And I forget, I forget how hard this all is for her. How hard it was for me, long, long ago.

How you feel like an over-ripe melon, just waiting to crack in the center, spilling guts everywhere.

How even something little and silly and stupid, like a pink shirt, can make you feel wobbly and off-kilter inside.

It’s only 8am but I feel exhausted.

No wonder we adults forget–who wants to remember this stuff?

***

I sit at a stoplight, fighting tears.

I punch the radio button viciously, changing stations.

“Boom, Clap, the sound of my heart,” some little young pop-starlet sings.

“The beat goes on and on and on and on.”

Post to Twitter

{ 19 comments }

Transitions

August 18, 2014

Oddball Tomato Salad

August 8, 2014