Hillary Clinton says “it takes a village,” but I think it takes a recipe.
What I mean is sometimes you think you don’t like a certain dish because you’ve had so many bad versions of that dish, but then suddenly you encounter a recipe for that dish that takes you by surprise and you find yourself–against your best instincts–loving that dish. And that’s exactly what happened last week, on a frigid, freezing day, when I made Heidi’s lentil soup.
I’ve never liked lentil soup; actually, I’ve never liked soup that much period. But certain weather demands that you make soup, and if ever there was the weather for soup–and if you live in the Northeast or the Northwest, you know what I’m talking about–this is it.
What I liked so much about this soup is that the flavors were clear and bright; it wasn’t that muddy, gunky mass of water and mushy beans that normally passes for lentil soup. All of the elements–the lentils, the onions, the greens (I used swiss chard)–stand firmly on their own and even though it’s hardy enough to be a winter dish, it has all the brightness of summer too. And if you make it spicy (and I did) you’ll feel like there’s a campfire in your belly, which is just what you want on a cold winter’s night.
For Heidi’s precise recipe, click the link above or here.
Here’s an Amateur Gourmet summary of what you do:
1. Buy a bag of lentils and boil 2 cups of them in plenty of water for 20 minutes or until they’re cooked through (at the 15 minute mark, start tasting.) When cooked, drain them.
2. Wash out that pot dry it. Add some olive oil (Heidi says 1 Tbs, I used more because I’m a glutton), turn up the heat, and add one chopped onion.
3. Here’s where Heidi and I go down different paths: she has you add spices at the end of the recipe, but I added them with the onion while it was sauteing. So in this step, I added salt and a sprinkling of cumin seeds, a sprinkling of cayenne pepper, a sprinkling of curry powder, and some red pepper flakes. It’s all to taste so if you want it aggressive and spicy, add a lot. If you want it mild and subtle, add a little. As Heidi says: you can rewrite this recipe as much as you want to suit your own needs.
4. When the onion is translucent, you add 1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes, 2 cups water (I used the empty tomato can for the water so I got all the remaining tomato shmutz in there too), and the cooked lentils to the pot. Bring the soup to a simmer and taste; this is a good time to adjust the salt. I added quite a bit, but I’m a salty guy.
5. After a few minutes, add 3 cups of a finely chopped “big, leafy green”–either kale or chard–which you wash well and separate from the stem (don’t use the stems.) Let it wilt a bit in the soup and then that’s it. You’re done!
Heidi has you top it with a saffron yogurt mixture, but I just topped it with a dollop of sour cream. And it was excellent. So excellent, in fact, that I ate it for lunch the next day too and dinner the night before I left for Seattle. It’s just the kind of food you want to eat at the start of a cold, miserable winter; which means the time to eat it is now.