Note: Cooking For Pleasure is a new column by Patty Schied, a longtime Juneau resident who studied at the Cordon Bleu in London, has cooked meals for both AWARE and the Glory Hall, and has written a cookbook.
Cooking a wide variety of ethnic foods in Juneau is so much easier than it used to be. This has been great for me because I have loved cooking ever since I was tall enough to see above the kitchen counter. Every country has unique, wonderful recipes. These days we can find exotic foods, fresh, frozen or packaged at most of our grocery stores. Eating food items from other countries such as Mexico and Italy are now an intrinsic part of our daily diet. This makes both eating and cooking a lot more fun. And not every international recipe requires a lot of work.
When the wind howls and it’s raining sideways, it is time to make soup. The variety of tastes, spices and soup styles available are awesome with new ones appearing every year. If they sound difficult to prepare, there is always YouTube to help you out. I find the best part of making soups frequently is that I can store them in individual servings and select what I’m in the mood for days or weeks later, especially if I am too tired to cook. With the “instant pot” available these days, soups that once took a long time to prepare can be made in a fraction of time.
Today I am making a Middle Eastern red lentil soup. (Oh, not lentils you are probably thinking. I remember refusing to eat lentil soup when I was growing up because not only did I think the color was ugly, I thought the taste was horrid). But then I had red lentil soup in a Middle Eastern restaurant. Not only is the color different, the flavor is wonderful. For this recipe I am using homemade chicken broth although canned is fine. This one is so easy! The aromas of garlic, cumin and onion will make your mouth water. Aleppo pepper, if you have it (not as hot as cayenne) adds a lovely mild heat to the soup. If you are vegan or vegetarian, water and oil will do just fine.
1 cup of dry red lentils
2 Tablespoons butter or oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 cups of water or chicken broth, as you prefer
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tablespoon oil or clarified butter
Aleppo pepper or cayenne to taste
Spread the lentils out on a cutting board or plate and pick out any stones. Rinse them several times. Saute the chopped onion in the butter or oil until soft and transparent, then raise the heat and brown slowly, being careful not to burn. Add lentils and chicken broth, enough to cover by one inch. Partly cover and simmer slowly for about thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, then remove lentils from pan and puree (or not as you prefer, I didn’t). Return to pan and add more broth, if necessary to make it a good creamy consistency.
Seasonings: Finely mince garlic. Heat oil or butter in small saucepan and add the garlic. Stir and as soon it starts to become golden (do not brown) add the cumin for a few seconds. Heating the cumin makes it “bloom.” Stir and pour into soup. Add salt and pepper (I like to add Aleppo pepper) and simmer for another 15 or 20 minutes.
This should serve four. The recipe can be easily doubled. It can also be frozen in individual containers, perfect for an office lunch.
Well, my sister and I just ate a bowl of this soup which took less than an hour to make. It was yummy and certainly not boring. The leftover soup solidifies in the refrigerator, so add a little water to make it the consistency you prefer when you reheat it.