I’ve always been a bit of a homebody, but only now is it becoming acceptable and even cool. I attribute this paradigm shift to age (not that I’m claiming to be old, not at all). As I get older, I enjoy puttering around my home more and more, and it’s finally become acceptable to say to friends, “We stayed in and made dinner on a Saturday night.” No one raises eye brows anymore, expecting you to regale them with a tale of an outing until four o’clock in the morning in the coolest lounge that has just opened – a lounge that doesn’t have a name or an entrance sign and has a password which you must tell to a faceless voice over the telephone nearby. Yes, we’ve all been there. I’m over it and I have been for some time.
Last night, over dinner during our monthly book club meetings, one of my friends was telling us of one such night, which is now an aberration in her life. “A party,” she said, “that started at 10pm. I barely made it. I mean, I really had to remind myself that I had to go.” We all nodded because at this stage in our lives, a party that starts at ten in the evening, is indeed quite late. We’d have to be out, having a late dinner to motivate ourselves to actually attend. If we’re at home in our pajamas – forget about it. It won’t happen.
This being at home thing that I love so much is further reinforced by winter. I’m a huge fan of staying in and cooking winter food, especially soup. I won’t even list the number of times I’ve waxed poetic about it. A good soup will revive, soothe, nourish, and even inspire. A good soup will elevate your spirits and might actually make you grateful for things like winter, snow, and below-freezing temperatures. Every time I complain about the cold, or cast a furtive glance at a Caribbean getaways, or lament that my winter get-up makes me resemble a black marshmallow – every time I do any of those things, I remind myself that were I living anywhere warm and tropical, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to enjoy things like soup, or stews, or hot cocoa. And this soup here today – it’s the kind of soup that makes you delighted that the weather outside may, indeed, be frightful.
You know you have a clear winner on your hands, when everyone whom you feed this soup, immediately raves, asks for a recipe, or wants seconds. Andrew took this soup to lunch for work and claimed it was filling enough to be lunch. The ladies of my book club group unanimously praised it. I could probably eat a bowl of this every day and be content with the world. This soup is a simple joy, yet offers complex flavors. The heat from the cayenne grows gradually warming the back of your throat, and the tomato paste gives the soup a deeper dimension. And finally, the lemon – brightens up the flavors and makes the soup smile. Yes, smile. If that’s not reason to embrace winter and snow, I don’t know what is.
Red Lentil Soup With Lemon
Adapted from In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite, by Melissa Clark
Basically, here’s the deal – this soup is pretty much perfect straight from the book (and I rarely just follow a recipe verbatim). That’s just how this book goes though. The only thing I really changed is water. I don’t add water in addition to broth here. I prefer my soup to be a little bit on the thicker side, but you should see how the soup feels to you when you make it. Melissa has you add about a cup to a cup and a half water to the soup in addition to the stock. Also I add the Aleppo pepper because I’m slightly obsessed with it. If you can’t find any in your local grocery store/spice shop, a light dusting of cayenne or even chili powder (for that smoky effect) should do the trick.
3 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of ground chili powder or cayenne, more to taste
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock (vegetable to keep the soup vegan)
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Aleppo pepper (for dusting the soup)
In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.
Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder or cayenne, and sauté for another 2 minutes.
Add broth, lentils and carrots. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and season with salt if necessary.
Using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor, purée half the soup then add it back to pot. Soup should be somewhat chunky.
Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in lemon juice and cilantro. Serve soup drizzled with good olive oil and dusted lightly with Aleppo pepper if desired.
Serves 6 to 8