Yesterday I was re-reading and thinking about the manifesto I had written years ago for this blog, not so much as a mission statement, but rather as an aggressive statement of my position on food and all things associated with it. To summarize, I believe that for the most part, food shouldn’t be a matter of guilt and moral decisions (some ethical views may apply), and that there is no one true right way to do food, because as the old saying goes, there’s no accounting for taste. (There are obvioulsy wrong ways, but those are exactly that – obvious.)
Being the obnoxious person that I am, I do, in fact, have loads of opinions about the right way to do food, but those apply to one thing and one thing only – food that is going into my mouth. What you end up eating, and why is your own business. It isn’t mine, but what is more important, it shouldn’t be that of trendy media personalities (we aren’t going to go chasing names here, there’s just too many) that will sell you apps or organic products via affiliate links and tell you to beware chemicals (ring a bell yet?), without regard to whether you need the app (you don’t), whether organic produce has less pesticides (it doesn’t, just different ones), and entirely disregarding the fact that everything is made of chemicals, including you and the rest of the universe.
So what I am trying to say is that, while you could certainly do worse than listening to me, a good bet would be to develop some critical thinking skills of your own, and apply those to everything you hear. And considering the amount of food-related woo and misinformation and paranoia abounding on the internet, as well as the persuasiveness of the media outlets yammering it out, developing critical thinking regarding what you eat is a good place to start to save your health, your sanity and the contents of your wallet.
How does any of this relate to a recipe for lentil soup? In a couple of ways, actually. First of all, the reason I set out to make a lentil soup is that I like lentil soup. Don’t like it? Don’t force yourself to make and eat it, no matter what media personality says about how you simply must. Because I like lentil soup, and I felt like changing things up a little bit today, I’ve looked around my Pinterest board for inspiration (I use it for bookmarking things I like, not a source of inadequacy-induced psychosis), and decided to improvise in a direction I was sure I could manage, considering the contents of my pantry and spice cabinet. Which brings me to the second way in which the soup today is relevant – cooking from what you have and stock rotation. I knew I had lentils, I knew I had some vegetables that could be used up, I knew I had spices that weren’t getting any younger. The sum of that total would be soup, and it’d clean up fridge and pantry corners and let me get rid of that quarter-of-bag of lentils that hadn’t fit into the jar that holds the rest of them.
Frugality is not a dirty word, and one of the best ways to be frugal is to shop and cook your own pantry, and ignore advertising for the latest-and-trendiest superfood (a word that has no legal definition and is frowned upon as a marketing term because of that). Lentils are healthy and contain lots of fiber, vegetables are healthy, and really, as I’ve mentioned before, the best healthy eating advice I’ve ever come across came from The Onion, paraphrased: “just eat a goodamned vegetable once in a while”.
One last and important component that seems relevant to today’s rant and soup is the little bit (I don’t know, maybe 30g total) of sadly drying sliced cured chorizo that was slowly aging in the bottom of my fridge. I reached for it just as the social media has erupted in renewed “cured meats cause cancer by 18% and should be illegal because autisms!” gabble based on a well-known, and (again) misrepresented and misinterpreted statistic. In case you are curious, yes, eating a giant hunk of bacon daily (we are talking 50g/day intake) does slightly increase a chance of certain cancers (from just under 2% to about 2.3% lifetime, which is an increase of 18%). The articles were screaming that eating processed meat will give you cancer, and how it’s as bad as cigarettes, and gods know what other bullshit. I decided that it was enough social media for the day and turned it off, then went straight to the fridge and pulled out my cured meat for the soup.
Why? Because I love the flavor of chorizo, and because the reason people in general love to eat cured meat is that it’s a flavor powerhouse. And because I am not just going to munch on it (not today, anyway), but add a small amount of it to the soup, making the healthy soup that much more enticing. The key here, however, is to not overdo it, like with just about anything else. I don’t advocate sitting down and consuming a chunk of bacon daily. Occasionally it’s fine, but not every damn day. You probably also shouldn’t drink alcohol, eat ice cream or cake or steak every day, either. Variety is the spice of life, and it also what allows you to have your cake and eat reasonably well, too. The dose makes the poison.
So, armed with a little bit of chorizo, a large amount of lentils and a lot of anger at sensationalist media, I went into the kitchen, and quite by accident made what I consider the best lentil soup I have ever made. Seriously. I’m a lentil soup connoisseur, and I still think this is probably hands-down the best one I’d ever made or had anywhere else – which is why I am sharing the recipe. But in the spirit of the above rant, feel free to modify it as you see fit, because it’s going down your gullet, and thus your opinion is what matters.
Here’s what went into The Awesome Lentil and Cabbage Soup today (makes a 3L pot):
- Enough oil to saute vegetables as follows: (I used a nonstick pan and sunflower oil because that’s what I had on hand – usually it’s rapeseed aka Canola).
- 2 large onions, peeled and chopped
- 1 ‘solo’ head of garlic (equivalent of 4-8 cloves), peeled and finely chopped
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
- Fist-sized chunk of white cabbage (could use more, it’s what I had), sliced finely
- 2 teaspoons hot chili flakes (adjust this to your heat tolerance)
- 2 heaping teaspoons of garlic powder (yes I use garlic and garlic powder here, got a garlic problem with it?)
- 1 very heaping teaspoon of each: ground coriander seed, cumin, and ras-al-hanout (wikipedia link) mix
- 2 tbsp calf fond (it’s the one I happened to have on hand – occasionally I keep their game, beef, or other varieties around – because while I maintain that buillion cubes are vile, this stuff is not).
- ~2dl winter squash, chopped into 1cm pieces (I pulled one of the bags of the squash I’d frozen when it was left over after making the Hokkaido Squash Soup)
- ~100g frozen chopped spinach (You can use fresh. I am lazy.)
- 2 tbsp frozen chopped coriander leaves (I freeze chopped fresh herbs in tiny tupperware boxes before they go sad and slimy in my fridge)
- 3dl red lentils
- 2-3dl brown or green lentils
- 30-50g of cured chorizo sausage, cut into very small pieces
- Salt to taste
What to do with it all:
- Put a soup pot and a nonstick pan on the stove and heat a bit of oil in both of those on medium heat.
- Toss onions into the frying pan and add a miniscule pinch of salt. Add your shredded carrots to the pot and salt those too. Salt helps them saute nicer. Keep an eye on those and stir them until they turn golden.
- Once carrots are golden, add garlic to the pot and fry for a few seconds to a minute until fragrant but not really coloring. Add about a liter of water to stop the saute. Once onions are soft and turning golden at edges, add chili flakes and cabbage and saute the cabbage gently, mixing with the onions, until it is soft and beginning to turn translucent. Sprinkle garlic powder over the vegetables and allow it to heat for a few seconds (this prevents the garlic powder from clumping when added to liquid).
- Add the onions and cabbage to the pot, rinse the frying pan with water and put that into the pot as well. Add the cubed squash, remaining spices, fond, chorizo, all the lentils and water up to 5cm of the edge of the pot. Stir thoroughly.
- Bring soup to a boil then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until squash is entirely tender and all lentils are cooked (red ones will disintegrate while brown/green ones will keep their shape a bit better).
- Add frozen or fresh chopped spinach and frozen or fresh coriander, turn heat up to medium and stir until greens are dispersed (if frozen) or just cooked through.
- Taste and season if necessary. That’s it.
Slap a generous pat of butter onto some good bread (I used the spelt and wheat bread I’d baked a few days ago), pour yourself a generous bowl of soup, drizzle some olive oil on it, grind a touch of black pepper and enjoy. Trust me, the tiny amount of chorizo in a 3 liter pot of that vegetable and legume goodness is not going to kill you – and you eating the delicious soup full of dietary fiber (which reduces the risk of the same cancer that cured meat is supposed to increase), is one hell of a lot better than worrying about it and then binge-eating a cake or something else that may not be bacon, but may well make you sick anyway. Or not eating, because eating disorders kill pretty reliably, too.
That’s it. Rant over. And on that note, I’m going to go and have another bowl of soup.