It’s not exactly proper soup season yet here in San Francisco but it sure is starting to feel like it — this coming weekend the time changes and though it will be nice to see the moon rise up early I’m not at all looking forward to running in the dark. I got a taste of the winter to come when I was in England — the night before I left, in fact, the temperature hovered around the 40 F mark and even all the delicious Indian food we’d eaten at dinner wasn’t quite enough to ease the bite — and while the Bay Area is doing its usual fog then sun then breeze then sun again song-and-dance, more often than not right now a bowl of soup is really the only thing to have for dinner (and lunch, as leftovers).
But it’s more than that, if I’m being perfectly honest. It’s also that when I’m jetlagged and peering round the fatigue my creativity is usually pretty lacking. I am more wont to cook down and puree lots of vegetables into a silky, swirly soup than give much thought to how to artfully arrange said vegetables on a plate and then dress them with something delicious and fresh. No: much, much easier to pour myself a glass of cranberry juice and tuck a bowl of lightly spiced lentil-rice-spinach soup under my chin, which is of course propped carefully on my palm so as to prevent it from slipping away entirely into dreamland (I think the latest I was able to stay awake was 9.30, and even that was a stretch), and much more appealing, too.
So in in the early days of last week, though the hazy daze of jetlag had me initially unable to form coherent sentences (or return any phone calls; sorry), I made a pot of couscous and many-vegetabled soup and then a batch of red lentil, brown rice and spinach soup drawn mainly from a recipe posted by the ever-inspiring Heidi at 101cookbooks.com. I think as soon as I saw her post I started mentally scouring the contents of my pantry and hoping against hope I had some red lentils kicking around (something about the idea of lentils and
rice cooked together to make a complete, one pot meal caught my eye).
Luckily I did have enough of the lentils as well as some short grain brown rice and an onion still worth using — and so, though I’d meant to defrost a bit of soup leftover from a meal a few weeks ago and was already starting to feel my eyelids droop, I planted myself firmly in front of the stove and made quick work of it. (Besides being absolutely nourishing and soothing, this is one of the quickest meals to whip up you’ll come across — it took me about 30 minutes start to finish, and it was all in just one pot.) I added generous handfuls of spinach because I am loathe to do without my greens if I can help it, and if I’d had a little coconut milk I would’ve slipped that in, too, but as-is this soup is just about perfect, hearty yet light at the same time and infinitely satisfying. The lentils crumble in on each other to make a thick slurry that’s saved from mushiness by the rice, and a bit of heat from the curry powder saves it from being too bland — like I said, it’s pretty much perfect.
I ate exceedingly well in England — sweet, sweet England I missed as soon as the plane’s wheels left the ground at Heathrow — and even did a tiny bit of cooking for my wonderful hosts, but it was good to get back to basics in my own little kitchen again. The other night I went out for my run and ended up chasing the sunset down to Ocean Beach and back again (nearly 9.5 miles round trip) — which was unexpected but the air felt so good against my bare arms and I’d been missing the Pacific and, apparently, needed to see it — and came home to make a grilled cheese sandwich and heat up the soup I’d made the night before, so very grateful it was there for me to eat. I got sleepy straightaway but managed to wash all the dishes before I folded myself into bed, the light just barely switched off before my eyes closed.
This week is better. Soup season or no, I’m getting there.
ps: Thanksgiving is but a month away – are you ready?
Red Lentil and Brown Rice Soup
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. curry powder
6 cups good-tasting vegetable broth or water (or a mix; I did half-half
1 1/3 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
1/2 cup brown rice
salt and pepper
4 cups spinach, roughly torn
In a big soup pot, over medium heat, combine the olive oil, onion, garlic, and spices. Let them brown, and caramelize a bit, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the broth or water, bring to a boil, then stir in the lentils and rice. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until the rice is very tender. Add the spinach and a bit more water if necessary.
Add salt and pepper to taste. When you’re reheating the leftovers you may want to add more water each time to make it more brothy.