Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Moo Cow's Easy Lentil Soup

You may have noticed I haven't been blogging, tweeting, facebooking, pinning, reading, commenting, sharing as much. Or maybe you don't have time to stalk me, which is totally acceptable.

In any case, I have decided to take a break from Blogging (with a capital B), meaning the "commentshare bureaucracy" as my friend Katia put it so eloquently, which, translated for non-bloggers, means a gigantic time commitment. Instead, I plan to continue to blog (small b), meaning write on my blog as well as submit essays elsewhere.

One of the reasons I have stepped back from Big-B-Blogging is to spend more time in my real life being healthy: sleeping, chiefly, but also exercising and especially cooking. I grew up watching my mother and grandmother cook, absorbing the fundamentals of Italian-American cuisine, which were then modified and reinforced when I lived in Italy in the 90s.

Both sources of "training" consisted of such directions as "mix tomatoes in and add some salt." How many tomatoes? How much salt? In what order? Well, if you didn't know, it was your problem. (Kind of like driving in New Jersey.)

Case in point, here is a "recipe" my grandmother gave me before she stopped cooking entirely:

Oh, well that clears it up now, doesn't it? I like the extra tips she provided for her presumably cooking-challenged granddaughter: "Press down hard." "Cut off bottom and outside of leaves." Like I would eat the stalk? No mention, however, of small -- yet critical to a recipe! -- details like how much garlic, salt, cheese and pepper to use, never mind how many artichokes.

As a result, I cook by taste and feel, which results in three truths:

  1. Meals don't always turn out the same as last time (this can be good or bad); 
  2. Left to my own devices, all meat tastes like meatballs and everything is dressed with olive oil and salt, much to my spice-loving husband's chagrin; and 
  3. I am pitiful at reading recipes.

Inevitably I will add baking soda instead of baking powder. Or cut up one onion instead of two. Or be missing a key ingredient. Or halve only one part of the recipe. (I did this with my friend's awesome chili recipe for years. Sorry, Abbiecakes.)

I know how to read. I mean, I have three expensive degrees in such word-heavy disciplines as anthropology and international affairs. And I like to cook. But I can't seem to follow a recipe. (Or cut vegetables without slicing my fingers twenty ways to Sunday, but that's another issue entirely.)

When Henry was born, a friend of mine gave me an awesome cookbook, Sesame Street -- "C" Is For Cooking. The instructions include ways for kids to help. Genius.

In it I spied a recipe from the brilliant Mark Bittman, whose Kitchen Express is my cooking bible, since its recipes are all in add-this-add-that paragraph form, instead of a list of instructions I am bound to ignore anyway.

The recipe was for an exceedingly simple lentil soup, a staple in my grandmother's house, but one I never make because Rayne despises both lentils (in taste and texture) and the complete lack of Sriracha.

As I made the soup, I congratulated myself for reading all the directions and only cutting off one piece of one fingernail while mincing garlic. No blood, even! The soup was fragrant; the odor of fresh thyme filled the kitchen, competing with the hateful smell of stale pot smoke that permeates the adjacent space.

After thirty minutes, the time listed in the instructions, the lentils still seemed a little hard, so I let them cook another five minutes before serving. I wondered as I spooned the soup into Henry's little bowl why my grandmother never used such bright green lentils instead of the boring brown ones. Maybe the green ones were organic, more expensive? She never had a lot of money growing up, and old habits die hard.

The lentils were still pretty hard. But I ate them anyway. Because, you know, I'm stubborn. And the soup tasted delicious otherwise.

Henry demurred. He picked out only the carrots, choosing to stuff the lentils into the straw of his sippy cup, where they obviously belonged. I made a mental note to tell my sitter to let the soup cook another 10 or 15 minutes before serving it for lunch.

After dinner, my stomach felt unusually heavy. Then I realized why: As I went to put the "lentils" away, I saw that I had actually used split peas (thus the green color), which take much longer to cook.

So, here's the recipe for Moo Cow's Easy Lentil Soup: Follow all directions for actual lentil soup, but substitute half-cooked split peas. Delicious! You're welcome.

Image courtesy of Suat Eman / because I obviously did not make it.