Sunday, October 5, 2008

October Surprise

On Wednesday, September 24th, I turned 27. We celebrated with homemade pizza, wine, and five varieties of cupcakes. Three days later, I had a marvelous 2050 A.D.-themed party, in honor of my newish blog about sustainability issues. But you could say my year really started when I was thrown into the air by a Chevy S.U.V. as I was walking across the street in Midtown on Sunday evening. I hit the asphalt hard on my right side and ended up in an E.R., where they gave me a bag of Morphine and looked inside my body every which way -- X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan. Satisfied that my organs were working as they should from where they should, they sent me on my way. I spent a painful but cozy week recuperating at home.

As becomes an invalid, I've wanted to eat little but soothing soups and tasty teas, and fortunately, I have wonderful friends who supplied me with both. But I'm a cook. The space between fridge, chopping board, and stovetop is where I simply am, where my elements are in harmony -- and it's where I start to put those elements together when they come undone. I am lucky, indelibly. Not only did I survive what a friend called "a blatant assassination attempt by Big Fossil Fuel," but I survived with the ability to cook. Happy birthday, indeed.

Earlier this week, I made tortellini in brodo with homemade broth, something I remember my Dad, a great cook, making in my childhood. It is my ultimate comfort food. And today, I made lentil soup -- perhaps the soup I most enjoy making at home. It's so delicious, so nutritious, so filling, and, unlike other legumes, lentils need no soaking and cook quickly, in about half an hour.

Before I started, I checked Mark Bittman's lentil soup recipe in How to Cook Everything, as I am wont to do, but improvised from there, adding potatoes we had on hand, and loading up on extra carrots. In a fit of inspiration, I sprinkled in nutmeg, then -- why not? -- cinnamon. The spices lent natural sweetness, an unexpected foil to the earthiness of the root vegetables and lentils. The thick soup was revelatory: an October surprise, no mud-slinging involved.

October Surprise Lentil Soup

Sometimes I like a lentil soup so thick even the label "stew" doesn't do it justice, other times I like a brothy soup. I generally prefer the latter when I'm using good, homemade stock. Adjust this recipe by adding more stock at the end if it gets too thick for your taste. Play with the recipe -- add spinach or celery, substitute shallots for onion, skip the potatoes, maybe even the carrots (though I do think some vegetables are crucial). The thing that makes this soup unique is the seasoning: thyme and (surprise!) nutmeg and cinnamon. The taste is pure comfort, whether you're recuperating after a run-in with a two-ton vehicle -- or just warming up on a blustery autumn day.

1 1/2 cup lentils, washed and picked over
1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch coins
1/2 pound small white potatoes, scrubbed, sprouts removed, and sliced into 1/2-inch chunks
2 bay leaves
4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme or 2 big pinches dried thyme
1 big pinch ground nutmeg
1 pinch ground cinnamon
8 to 10 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped to a 1/4-inch dice
1 tablespoon minced garlic, or more, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Place the lentils, carrots, potatoes, bay leaves, thyme, cinnamon, and nutmeg, in a medium pot with 8 cups of stock. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, swirl the olive oil in a skillet and turn the heat to medium-low. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.
  3. When the lentils, carrots, and potatoes are tender -- about 30 minutes -- remove the bay leaves and the thyme sprigs and pour the onion mixture into the soup. Taste and adjust the seasonings. It should be faintly sweet, with just a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg.
  4. Add more warm stock if necessary. I like a very thick lentil soup, though it can be nice with more stock, especially if the stock is homemade. Season with salt (if needed) and black pepper and serve.
Serves 6.


TKTC said...

Do you even know with what delight I make a lentil run? This will sustain me through the week to be sure!

Dave, 'LunaPierCook' said...

Dang girl, sounds painful! Certainly I'm glad you're alright. Must be careful of those who might sweep you off your feet ...

My older sister has always made a mean but simple lentil soup, nice and thick, with a rich flavor. One of these days I'm going to have to steal the recipe. Thatks for the drool-worthy reminder!

Nora Leah Sherman said...

Lentil soup is certainly one of those things that can too easily be forgotten -- but it is such a delight. These spices remind me a BIT of Middle Eastern versions of the soup, which I love to order at certain, say, Turkish restaurants. The potatoes add a nice "new world" touch. I hope you both enjoy!

Gary Allen said...

Glad to hear you're surviving well -- I 'spect the tortellini in brodo was a major factor in yr speedy recovery. I made some last week also -- with rainbow-colored chard.

Not so bad.

BTW, how do you make yours?

Nora Leah Sherman said...

Gary, apologies for the long delay. Yes, soup was absolutely CENTRAL to my recuperation.

My tortellini is brodo is as simple as can be -- carrot coins, homemade broth, MAYBE some seasonings, and tortellini.

The chard sounds deelish, will try that the next time!

Anonymous said...

let me try, thanks!

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