In which the world of culinary hedonism is explored with a cup and a half of curiosity, a heaping tablespoon of passion and a dash of clumsiness.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ninety-Ninth Post (One more!) ~ Cooking with Lentils

This past week, I was on a cruise with my family in the Caribbean to celebrate my grandmother's 80th birthday.  I've got to say, all the good food made me really miss blogging.

Don't get me wrong - I've been cooking and eating LOTS of good food over the last few months - I just haven't been blogging as much as I'd like.  Hopefully, that shall change.

Certainly the inspiration to reach 100 posts will help nudge me!

So, while we were on this cruise, I ordered a phenomenal pork roast dinner.  The pork was fork-tender.  The bread was crackle-perfect and the wine robust.  But what really stole the show for me (I'm sure to the chef's chagrin, should he have known) were the perfect little lentils spread under the roast.  I was immediately reminded of how much I love these little beans.  Perhaps it's because they're tied to a memory.

When I was a junior in college, I had a schedule during the winter months that allowed me to take a morning class and then drive back to my apartment for a breather before heading off to night classes.  I had, if I recall, about an hour and a half total for a break.  I'd throw my bags on the floor, take off my shoes, and prepare a hot lunch.  More often than not, it was a bowl of Campbell's soup (I wasn't such a cook back then).  One of my favorites was lentil soup.  I'd line up a re-run episode of Frasier on my DVR, sit with a heating pad on my back to relieve the chill and eat hot soup, relish in a good laugh, and, though I didn't know it at the time, build memories of my very first apartment and independent young adulthood, memories that will stay with me, steeped in nostalgia, forever.

So as I tasted the lentils, these memories came to me, and I told them to my family.  We talked about how food can be so closely tied to memories, and I resolved myself to return home and blog the very first meal I cooked.

Which happened to be lentil soup.

About which I knew absolutely nothing.

So I hit up AllRecipes, and came across this one.  I decided that my first foray into lentils would be well-instructed.  If this venture went well, I'd continue on unassisted.  One of my favorite aspects of soup is that it can be (and in my and my mother's opinions, SHOULD be) a laissez-faire kind of thing.  I decided to alter the ingredients a little to make it a bit more "throw-in-a-pot-and-walk-away."

Here's what you'll need (and as you can see, I followed the original recipe very closely but with a few substitutions in method - I'm not trying to pass this recipe off as my own!):

~ 1 (12 oz.) bag Wegmans pre-cut, pre-washed course mirepoix 
~ 1/4 cup EVOO
~ 2 cloves chopped garlic (although I think I'd press it next time)
~ 1 tsp each dried basil and oregano
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1 (14.5 oz.) can tomatoes in whatever form you can find them in (I ultimately found "diced in juice")
~ 2 cups dried lentils
~ 8 cups water
~ good handful baby spinach, rinsed but not cut
~ splash red wine
~ fresh oregano
~ salt

I pre-measured everything before I even turned on the pot.  Doing so makes for faster dump-and-go soup-making.  While the original recipe calls for chopping onions, carrots and celery, I decided to cheat with the pre-made mirepoix.  I started the EVOO simmering and dumped in the whole bag.  I let it cook until the onions were nearly translucent, then added the garlic and the herbs (and wow, did THAT smell good!).  I added a good amount of salt at this point.  I let it cook the recommended 2 minutes, and added the tomatoes, lentils and water.  I walked away for an hour and change, coming back to stir it occasionally and take in the fantastic aromas.

Finally, I turned off the heat and let it sit for about an hour until I was ready to eat.  I turned it back on and added the final ingredients.  The original recipe calls for vinegar.  In my opinion, wine just makes me happier than vinegar.  Unless we're pouring it over curly-cue french fries.  So I added a splash of the Carmenere I got for this meal.  The recipe also calls for sliced spinach, but I opted to go for baby leaves so I wouldn't have to do anything to them.

I let the soup bubble for a few minutes while I changed into my PJs and poured the wine (mine is a comfortable household).  I ladled the soup into my bowl and topped it with a bit of fresh oregano.  Then, I grabbed my soup, grabbed a crusty rosemary roll from Wegman's bakery to go with it and grabbed my glass of Carmenere and sat down to enjoy.

This Chilean wine, by Arboleda, was on sale at the wine shop right around the corner from my old apartment (see?  I told you I was feeling nostalgic!).  It's full, ripe, rustic, and steeped in berry flavor.  It made a fine companion to this meal.

The soup also did not disappoint.  The lentils were tender and flavorful, the vegetables were perfectly cooked, and the fresh oregano gave a punch of bright flavor to the stewed ingredients.  I feel as though I may have found a new favorite bean!  Versatile enough to be a side or a main course (as well as being healthy AND inexpensive), this is not the last you shall read of lentils from THIS accidental chef!

Yours in the love of good food, wine, and nostalgia,

The blogger is not an experienced chef. She takes no responsibility for the quality of the meals prepared while following her advice. Use your own judgment regarding cooking times and proper food handling.