Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wonderful Lentil Soup for Cook the Books: "Home Cooking" by Laurie Colwin and Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

A whole lot of soup gets made on this blog--over 220 so far. With all that variety, picking a favorite soup or kind of soup out of all of them isn't easy. In my top five at least is lentil soup. I look at lentil soup as the tee-shirt and worn, faded blue jeans of the soup world. Cozy, easy, comfortable--what you want to have around to relax and bring comfort. Lentil soup isn't fancy or pretentious--it is unassuming, down to earth. It's much like the writing of Laurie Colwin, food writer and author of five books, including Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, our August/September Cook the Books selection. 

I had read about Laurie Colwin before I came across her books in a used book store a couple of years ago. Tragically she died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 48 in 1992 depriving the food world and the world-at-large of an incredible talent for warm and funny writing. Both Home Cooking and her follow-up More Home Cooking, sit on my bedside book stand, ready to be pulled out and the essays inside enjoyed anytime I need a little comfort and a little warmth to relax at the end of the night. Colwin captures so many ideas about food that exist in my mind and articulates them so well. Like this paragraph on soup:

"There is nothing like soup. It is by it's nature eccentric; no two are ever alike, unless of course you get your soup from cans. Soup embraces variety. There are silken cream soups that glisten on the spoon and spicy bisques with tiny flecks of lobster. There are broths in which float tiny tortellini and bouillons served in teacups on cold days, or, in the case of my great-aunt Julia Rice, ladled from silver punch bowls and served in punch cups to the conductors on the old Fifth Avenue streetcar during snowstorms. There are cold soups, soups that resemble stews, but when I think about soup, I mean something you eat with bread and butter and call a meal--meat soups and bean soups: thick, warming and consoling, and also a good way to deal with leftovers." 

So, of course it had to be soup for me when it came to making a dish inspired by the book. And lentil soup. Colwin says "It was not until I was a teenager that I tasted lentil soup which became my lifetime companion. There have been periods of my life when I have lived on lentil soup..." There is a longer essay on 'Wonderful Lentil Soup in More Home Cooking' along with a recipe sketch--taking it from simple to all fancied up, that I used for my inspiration. 
Wonderful Lentil Soup
Adapted from Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin
(Makes about 6 Servings)

"The most minimal lentil soup calls for a cup of lentils; a quart of water or stock of any kind; one sliced carrot; one or two cloves of garlic, minced; one small diced onion; and there you are. This makes a nice plain soup to which no hungry person can object. 

The next step is to add on potato , diced up (I love lentil soup with potatoes in it), one rib of celery, one bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, another clove of garlic, and you have a more varied potage that is actually a vegetable soup with lentils.

...You cook this gently on the stove. You will have soup in a hour. You will have a better soup if you wait a little longer. ... The point is, you can't mess it up. Lentil soup is there for you . With a loaf of bread, a salad, and some cheese, and something or other for dessert,  you have your midday or evening meal without much trouble on your part. 

Notes/Results: I kept this soup very simple--just the basics. Unfortunately I did not have a carrot in the veggie drawer as I had assumed, but I just added extra celery. In addition to the thyme in Colwin's recipe sketch, I added some fresh rosemary. I like to add  brightness to the earthy lentils with a shot of balsamic vinegar or lemon added at the end. Or, in this case, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard--it just adds a little something. That's all you need. It's a vegan soup, but I didn't make it a vegan meal as I had some decadent and irresistible locally-made feta spread with garlic and herbs, picked up at the farmers market spread on sliced seeded, multi-grain loaf. With some rain pouring down last night, it was a perfect dinner. Lentil soup is even better the next day--although if you like a lot of broth, you'll need to add more--it sucks it up like a sponge. ;-)

I am not sure why it took me so long to pick Home Cooking as one of my Cook the Books selections, but I am glad I did. If you want to join in--we are of course right at the deadline of Monday, September 24, but consider joining us for October/November, when Jo of Food Junkie Not Junk Food is hosting Nora Ephron's Heartburn.  

Now, let's take a look at who is in the Souper Sunday kitchen this week and see what they brought.

Ana from Sweet Almond Tree has a smooth and creamy Corn, Herb and Vegetable Soup to share this week. She says, "I make this corn soup at the end of every summer, and I love it.  You could say it's my farewell to summer dish.  Soup is filling and satisfying if you're watching calories like I am.This soup features sweetcorn in a creamy broth, with lots and lots and lots of vegetables. I think it's the fresh herbs that make this soup as delicious as it is. They just take it over the top."

Janet of The Taste Space has a lentil soup variation, this Greek Red Lentil Soup with Lemon and Rosemary. Janet says, "This Greek red lentil soup is very simple, yet tastes great. The soup stock is based from sauteed onions, garlic, carrots and bay leaves which are simmered with red lentils infused with rosemary and oregano for the touch of Greek. The soup is finished with lemon juice and zest to bring it up a notch and complement the herbs. The entire recipe makes a big pot of soup, so I encourage you to freeze half for a rainy (or snowy) day."

Janet also has this pretty Kasha Salad with Roasted Beets and Green Beans in a Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette. She says, "Kasha is buckwheat that has been hulled and roasted. As such, it is a darker brown than raw buckwheat. Kasha can be tricky to cook as it can absorb lots of water and turn into mush. Here, I opted to toast it in the oven first, and then cooked it in a 1:2 ratio with water. While the kernels still seemed to explode slightly, they reminded me of coarse bulgur in this salad. Kasha has a slightly nuttier, stronger flavour but pairs well with beets and dill. I combined some garden-fresh green beans and roasted beets with a lemony dill vinaigrette for a bright early fall salad. Or late summer salad?"

We have two sandwiches this week. First, Graziana of Erbe in Cucina is back with a sandwich offering this week--a hearty Salmon Bagel with Sorrel. She says, "I bought some fresh bagels, garnished with poppy seeds and sesame seeds, and I prepared the classic bagels with smoked salmon. I harvested a bunch of fresh sorrel, and its tangy taste was a perfect match with salmon."

Tigerfish of Teczcape-An Escape to Food made these Bell Peppers Omelette in Pita PocketsShe says, "When time is short, what is lunch and where is dinner? Sometimes, meals prepared/made in advance can save a later part of the day. Make an omelette out of onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, and come dinner time, just heat up pita bread and "pocket" the omelette with your favorite raw greens e.g salad greens or fine juliennes of organic Persian cucumber."

Thanks to everyone who joined in this week. If you have a soup, salad or sandwich that you would like to share--just click on the Souper Sundays logo on the sidebar for all of the details.

Have a happy, healthy week!


  1. I loved your selection for Cook the Books! And this lentil soup is just perfect for it.

  2. Great roundup! I've got a soup coming this week!

  3. Sweetalmodtree.blogspot.comSeptember 24, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    Great lentil soup. I love lentils! Make them all the time. Must try with potato. Today I made potato, cabbage and bean, delicious, but too ugly to take a picture of and send over to you, Lol!

  4. This was another recipe I had ogled in the book, then decided to go with my pasta plan. Lentil soup is indeed fabulous and it's difficult to go wrong with it as lentils are so tasty on their own. Thanks again for the lovely choice for CtB!

  5. Your soup sounds so comforting and just plain delicious. We are coming up to the weather for it here for sure. Good choice on the book, Deb.

  6. Glennis-Can't Believe We AteSeptember 29, 2012 at 2:59 PM

    Bless you for sharing this recipe! I don't have comforting memories of lentils. When I was in Jr. High, our school food program received an endless supply of lentils (it might have been the beginning of the government commodity program) and when lunch prices dropped to a dime, my mother insisted I eat a school lunch. We had lentils endlessly, in dozens of applications, but never as themselves. This helps me immensely!

  7. The one ingredient Laurie Colwin added in a subsequent article in Gourmet was green beans. I'm making this for the weekend for my dodgy stomach. Great comfort food and nutritious! Thanks for the article (and the recipe)!


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