Sunday, March 2, 2008

Welcome to the Burbs

Phew. You know? Wow. I am flagging this evening. It's been an exciting day. I was able to cook for my extended family and visit with a good group of people up on the hill at my Mother's house. It is not easy to keep up with the changes around here some days. In the last year, everyone has been married or had a baby; at many moments it has been nothing but celebration. At times it has been something altogether different, but a good life needs to show one many sides of themselves. Anyhow...

My sister-in-law's sister and her new husband were here for a quick visit. So, my brother and sister-in-law thought they could help them out by looking at some houses with them. I was also able to get involved and help, if they were looking for help in the area of losing their (magnificently groomed) little dog. She wasn't gone long, not really. And she is a slippery little creature, at least that's what I was thinking as those two fluffy bouncing little ears and that flowing plume of a tail disappeared into the night just after she bounded a blue streak past me at the front door. I was a mite petrified of losing a dog that looks that fabulous. I mean, she goes to a great salon and she has a charmed life, you know this just looking at her. And her charmed life was making for woods. But then, she stopped, lifted the plume into the air and took a deep, deep breath. Long enough that I could (gently, don't muss the do) scoop her up and deposit her back in the house. I felt very relieved. It's not like losing my dogs, where the concern is for others who may encounter them while holding a sandwich ( food obsession is the household business). If Pumpkin did not have three inch legs, no one in this town would eat again. But this cherished, beloved, polished pooch is not meant to fend for herself in the cruel wilderness of Westchester. This is not a dumpster-diving honey from parts-unknown and I am thankful that one sniff of the great outdoors proved to her it was no place for those little manicured paws.

Gratefully, into my life full with unsettling events like losing my sister-in-law's sister's dog, also comes some great food. I was on the hunt for red lentils at the Organic Connection to make this soup because Melissa Clark for the New York Times described the inspiration for it as something for which she "fell head over heels." In these parts, those little disks of soup glory are not easy to corral but there in the bulk bins at my third stop they appeared! I was off and running... into the wall.

At first blush, it let me down. Maybe my expectations were too high, people always tell me they are, but let me remind you: Head, heels. This was to be top notch liquor of the organic gods. After much tasting and peering searchingly into the pot with my Mom, we made some decisions about Melissa soup: More salt, cayenne and chili powder, a lot more lemon juice, and a little zest. Now, it's a good little soup. It's not going to get you out of debt, but you'll never be sorry, on a bitter cold winter day when you need to find a Shit-tzu in a forest, that you had this soup. And let's face it, this is some of the best food you can give your body.

Red Lentil Soup
adapted from Red Lentil and Lemon Soup, by Melissa Clark for the New York Times
North Salem

Serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of both ground chili powder or cayenne
1 quart chicken broth
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
Zest of one lemon
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

In a soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add garlic and cook for one minute. Add tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder, and cayenne, and cook for 2 minutes longer. Add chicken broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Take the soup from the heat and cool for 15 minutes (NEVER put boiling hot liquids into your blender). In a blender or a food processor, puree half the soup then add it back to pot. (Or not, these lentils break down easily, and the consistency is still great, if seeming somewhat less creamy, if you do not blend it at all). Reheat your soup over low heat if necessary, then stir in lemon juice, lemon zest, and cilantro.

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