the people’s three-lentil soup

Since September, stories of the economy seem to have been dominating the news scene. Bail-outs, foreclosures, and mass layoffs paved the way for a bit of a doomsday new year, even with the welcome change in political powers that be.

There comes a time, however, for whining to beget action.  After all the dystopic superlatives have been said (sky-high unemployment rate, all-time lows in stock market confidence), a person still has to eat.  Perhaps it’s callow of me to bend a very real tragedy into a post on soup, but as a recent survey of eating patterns in Canada shows, some people see hope in bowl too.

The survey* revealed that many Canadians at least want more home cooking on their plates. Of those surveyed, 88% said they will try to choose the dining room over the restaurant booth in future meal decisions. As if that wasn’t enough to make this prairie girl proud, the survey also found that men are becoming more involved in food preparation and planning.

Despite how things may seem, there are people throwing creativity at widespread malaise. There are groups quietly cheering on the sidelines of grumble. There are people turning back to older, simpler ways: making their own morning latte, eating together, or planting a garden.

I was lucky enough to grow up with a family who kept their meal times sacred. While I will be the first to champion a meal out at a great restaurant, for everyday eating, I prefer my meals around a familiar table.

And so, in full acceptance of the dismal spirit of the times, I made a big pot of lentil soup and picked up The Grapes of Wrath. Five litres of meaty, multi-colored lentils and some good Depression literature should do it, I thought.

Cheap, loaded with protein, and endlessly adaptable, this soup surpassed my expectations. So many of the lentil soups I’ve tried are mushy and bland. This one is bright and chunky. I whipped up some saffron yogurt too — for a sunny, indulgent reminder that better times will come.

But best of all, sitting around a coffee table on a snowy Saturday evening, I got to share it with people who remember how to delight in the simple things. Enough truly is a feast.

Continue reading

Advertisements

under african skies

With my folks heading into the ‘Cuse tomorrow, I’m going to have to take the weekend off from food blogging. I’ve already spent a good deal of time stocking the apartment with “aren’t you proud of me?” treats, like this and these — special requests from mama.) Despite a little bit of stress sneaking in as I contemplate cooking for the greatest cook I know, I can’t wait to feed the old birds.

There are millions of other delicious food sites out there to sustain you in my absence. In case you do notice my three day hiatus however, I’ve decided to leave you with two yummy dishes: Baked Chicken in Peanut sauce, and Libyan Lentil Salad.

I had the pleasure of cooking an African-themed meal for friends last weekend. It was a special request, in the form of a plaintive “I’ve never tried African food” spoken weeks earlier. Though I’ve only been to the continent once, I was happy to take on the responsibility of educating her on its vast culinary landscape.

Actually, I just zeroed in on dishes from Sierra Leone and Libya from World Hearth, an International cooking site I’d recently discovered. So next time someone says to you “I’ve never tried Uzbekian food,” you can raise your well-traveled eyebrow and proclaim, “well I’ll just have to make you my famous Kiimali Mashkichiri sometime soon.” Thanks to World Hearth, panic won’t be your side dish.

Sierra Leonean Baked Chicken in Peanut Sauce

serves 4

3 Tbsp cooking oil

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (tofu could be substituted here)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 fresh medium-sized red tomatoes, chopped

1 medium red or green pepper, chopped

6 3” okra fruits, sliced into 1/2” pieces

2 small-medium jalepeno peppers, finely minced

1 tsp thyme

1 medium bay leaf

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp cumin seeds or powder

1/2 tsp black pepper

3/4 cup peanut butter, warmed slightly for mixing

3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock

16 ounces green beans

  1. Saute chicken in oil until browned, but still pink inside. Remove and arrange in a single layer in a glass (or other oven-proof) baking dish.* Add onions and garlic to pan and saute for 5 minutes. Add thyme, bay leaf, salt, cumin, cayenne and black pepper. Add tomatoes, bell pepper, okra and jalepeno. Saute for 8 minutes.
  2. Mix peanut butter with chicken stock until smooth. Pour tomato mixture over the chicken, followed by the stock mixture and lastly the green beans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serve over rice or couscous.

*I did mine in a deep, round ceramic stew pot. Next time I’d try it in a shallower Pyrex glass 9×13 for added crispness and caramelization on top.

adapted from A West African Cook Book by Ellen Gibson Wilson

Libyan Lentil Salad

2 cups green (or French black) lentils

2 small-medium yams, chopped into 1 inch cubes

5 whole cloves

1 medium onion, cut in half and peeled

2 medium bay leaves

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tsp lemon peel

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp cumin

2 tsp coriander, ground

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put the lentils in a big pot and cover with water. Add cloves and both halves of the onion to the pot. Add bay leaves, garlic and lemon peel, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the lentils are tender.
  2. Toss the yam pieces with olive oil and roast for 40 minutes in a 375 degree oven, until tender.
  3. Drain the lentils, discard the onion, cloves and bay leaves. Combine the lentils with the roasted yams, chopped onion, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Set the salad aside to chill and marinate for 2 hours. Serve with plain yogurt and flatbread.

adapted from Recipes for an Arabian Night by David Scott