“What I love about cooking is that after a hard day, there is something comforting about the fact that if you melt butter and add flour and then hot stock, it will get thick! It’s a sure thing!
It’s a sure thing in a world where nothing is sure; it has a mathematical certainty in a world where those of us who long for some kind of certainty are forced to settle for crossword puzzles.” ~ Nora Ephron | Heartburn
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We're in the middle of winter in our pocket of the world. It's been on the mild side .. so there haven't yet been snow people in scarves dotting the neighborhood. Although .. as I drive through campus .. everybody's still all bundled up .. and their funny hats often make me smile.
Lately, the days have been London-fog grey .. and I've been doing everything I can to fight the winter blahs. Trips to the co-op for pretty fruit to make salads have helped .. but honestly, I've been reaching for my soup pot more often than not. It's comforting. Just a bowl and a spoon. No stabbing bits of lettuce or cutting with a knife ..
just simple eating
Right around the beginning of the year, my husband was traveling more than usual .. and most nights I found myself foraging for dinner and wishing I'd taken the time to stop by the grocery. Our usually well-stocked fridge was looking a bit naked .. and after a stent of tidying-up .. the cabinets weren't faring any better.
Digging deep into the pantry .. I brushed past the jars of beans and rice .. along with the random spices we're keeping around for “just the right recipe.” I reached for the french lentils .. a purchase from our local ethnic grocery one fall afternoon .. while Sally and I were out for our walk.
Tonight .. lentil soup
Luckily we'd hosted a dinner party the weekend prior .. a few stalks of kale were still in the crisper .. along with a partial container of mushrooms
While the dark green lentils danced in the simmering stock .. I busied myself elsewhere .. discarding the contents of several containers of left-overs from said party. Clearing out even more space in our already barren fridge.
I slowly sip a glass of bubbly while hunting for the rest of the ingredients. The kitchen is a place of solace for me .. somewhere to be creative .. to give to others .. to appreciate the small things .. to refresh .. or be pointed towards something in myself that I haven't taken the time to recognize
The onions and mushrooms sizzle and glisten at the buttery bottom of the pot. The familiar smell of garlic after it's been toasted just so. I pet the kitty cat who's come to visit .. after a few sniffs .. she turns on her heels and heads off .. in search of a napping spot
With every addition of stock .. dinner as I envisioned .. is starting to take shape. Now let's see .. “I think I stashed a few pieces of homemade bread? Yes .. right here .. in the back of the freezer”
The creamy lentils simmer idly while I find myself distracted for a bit with work. When I finally bring a bowl with me into my office .. I'm not certain if I'm still hungry .. and slowly nibble as the night wears on.
At first taste .. I wondered aloud if the spices didn't marry .. but after a bit of sitting in their own goodness .. my mouth was filled with warmth .. flavor .. and lentils just tender to the tooth. My bowl garnished with some shaved parmesan .. because I'm a sucker for a hint of garnish
The recipe makes a moderate portion of soup .. which is perfect for a household of two. Not only because it's better the next day .. but it won't be staring at you two or three days from now.
Whether you find yourself home alone in January starting into a naked fridge .. or in shorts and flip-flops somewhere warm and sunny
creamy lentils are never a bad idea
A few notes about the recipe
I'd encourage you to think of these lentils in broad strokes. There are dozens of ways to make subtle changes to the recipe .. depending on what you have on hand
A few thoughts around why I like this soup nutritionally (I know this is where many of you nod off). In addition to a nice amount of vegetable-based protein in this soup (from the lentils) .. the recipe also incorporates a touch of dairy .. vitamin-rich greens .. veggies .. and good fats.
A fried egg on top will often hit the spot. As will a 1/4 of a ripe avocado .. cut into a small dice and sprinkled across the top. With a bit of whole grain toast (or croutons) that have been rubbed with garlic .. a dusting of parmesan .. the whole thing comes together
You can use either green lentils or green split peas here. Both are delicious .. but the green split peas will lend a brighter green color to the soup
~ Adapted from Date Night In by Ashley Rodriguez
- 1 cup green French lentils
- 3 cups vegetable broth (** Note: homemade is best)
- 12 oz assorted mushrooms (ex: cremini, shiitake, and oyster), cleaned, de-stemmed, and chopped
- 3 Tbsp butter, unsalted
- 1 small onion, cut into ½-inch dice (~ ½ cup)
- fine grain sea salt
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped fine
- ½ cup dry white wine (or sake or sherry)
- ½ cup half-and-half (or coconut milk if avoiding dairy)
- 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
- 4 large eggs (optional)
- 8 ounces kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped
- Cook the Lentils
- Rinse the lentils thoroughly.
- In a medium pot over medium-high heat, add the lentils, along with the broth, and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to a low and simmer (the liquid should be barely bubbling) for 20-25 minutes. You'll know they're ready when they've swelled, absorbed most of the liquid, and are barely tender, but intact and not mushy
- Creamy Lentils with Mushroom and Kale
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the butter. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until it's lightly brown (~ 3 - 5 minutes)
- Add the onion and cook, stirring, for another minute, until it has just started to turn tender
- In an even layer, add the mushrooms and sprinkle them with a pinch of sea salt
- Cook undisturbed for 2 minutes, or until the bottom layer is deeply browned
- Stir them few times, distribute them again into an even layer, and cook undisturbed for another 2 minutes, or until the bottom layer has browned
- Repeat another time or two, until all the mushrooms are deeply caramelized and have shrunk significantly in size (~ 7 to 9 minutes total)
- Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute, then pour in the wine.
- Cook until the wine has been reduced, deglazing the pan as you go by scraping all of the flavorful brown bits from the bottom.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the half-and-half (or coconut milk if using).
- Let it bubble gently for 2 minutes until it has reduced slightly and thickened
- Add the cooked lentils, along with their liquid, stirring to combine
- Cover the pan and let it cook at barely a bubble for ~ 5 minutes
- Add the kale to the lentils, cover and cook until it is tender, but still bright green (~ 2 to 3 minutes)
- Taste, and adjust the seasonings, adding additional sea salt or freshly ground black pepper, if necessary
- Divide the lentils among serving bowls and top each with an egg (optional)
- Serve hot.