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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.