Friday, January 6, 2012

Lentil & Rice Soup: Warm Up and Fill Up

One of the longstanding traditions in our family was pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day.  I'm not sure what the ritual was supposed to usher in, but in our house it was an unshakable cooking odor that seemed to seep into the molecular level of the carpeting and drapes and hover like a semi-hostile ghost for weeks.

Nowadays, my New Year's Day Tradition is a little more ways than one.  I still have days when I'm nothing but carnivorous, but the frequency is less.  I've discovered it's just a natural change that occured during the past three years as I've dropped 185 through clean eating (specifically no gluten or cow-dairy) and being physcially engaged (DDPYOGA, long distance walking, weight-lifting).  Oh yeah, and feeling with awareness.  What, did you think it was all about calories and exercise?  No one gets to where I was on the scale without doing some serious sprinting away from feelings, and if you're looking for similar freedom from bondage, you'd better learn to make friends with feeling what you're avoiding most, or it's gong to be a long and bumpy ride through the valley of dieting snakeoil salesmen.

But back to the subject.  I've still gotta eat.  Heck, I still love it; I mean REALLY love it and always will, only now, I zero in on food that enhances everything:  my mood, the way my vital organs function, and my metabolism.  Firm rule of thumb:  it's got to taste good or why bother.  I spent too many years in purgatory pretending bone-dry 'oven fried' chicken was just as good as the real thing.  No more of that.  When I want fried chicken, I go to Hattie's.  And when it's a cold, gloomy January day, I often want some version of lentil soup.  There are endless varieties of them and not just because of the dozens of varieties of lentils out there.  They adapt beautifully to any spice palate. Lentils are also astoundingly inexpensive, and loaded with nutrition.  And when blended with a simple carb like rice or potatoes, equate to a complete meat or cheese necessary to round out the meal.

Here's a version I did on New Year's Day. To be honest, when I do soup, I just rummage through the spice cabinet and shake whatever strikes my fancy that day into the pot.  For this batch it was something like paprika, onion salt, rosemary, and cayenne pepper. Soups are very forgiving and hard to screw up completely.  If you're a novice, don't be afraid to play with flavors.  You'll probably end up savoring the results.

New Year's Day Lentil Soup

1 bag lentils (for this I used split orange lentils)*
2 large to medium onions, sliced or diced**
1 head garlic, cloves smashed
Olive or grapeseed oil for sauteeing the vegetables
Two tablespoons of seasoning:  whatever's in the cupboard. Paprika, garlic or onion powder, thyme, sage, rosemary.  Whatever blend you choose should total about two tablespoons.
1/4 cup powdered chicken stock or 4 boullion cubes

* If using whole lentils, like pinto beans or black-eyed peas, you'll need to soak them in water overnight
**You can add chopped carrots, celery, leeks to the onions and garlic.  No rules with this soup!

Pour split lentils into a large stock pot and add about a quart of purified drinking water. Let soak for two hours. Water will absorb into the lentils. After two hours of soaking, place lentils over medium heat and add more water until they're submerged by about 3 inches.

In a large frying pan, add chopped vegetables and enough oil to coat them well. Sautee over medium heat until at least soft and translucent. It's OK if some of them brown, it enhances the soup's flavor. Setcooked vegetables aside as lentils continue to cook. After about an hour, do a texture check to see if lentil are soft enough to eat.  They should somewhere in between hard pellets and mush.  A bit al dente, but with some give. Once they're cooked to desired texture, add the boullion, spices, and vegetables and simmer on low heat for aboutr 15 minutes.

As we all know, soup's better the next day, but you may want to dig into this immediately.  I served this version with a sticky-wild rice blend, but you can go with potatoes or gluten-free pasta.  A little Peccorino cheese (a sheep's milk cheese that's similar to Parmasean) sprinkled over each bowl makes it extra Divine.

Bon Appetit!