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Pandemic Cooking: Red Lentil Soup

These are stressful times.

This never-ending presidential election, the pandemic, Thanksgiving, Facebook philosophers, our better angels fighting to be free: it feels, oh, so heavy on my shoulders. If you asked me six months ago, I’d have told you that I’d be doing something, anything, except this. Back then, I was sure that as Thanksgiving approached I’d at least be able to leave my house and feel safe.

That shows you just how much I know.

Here I am, spending days awash in grief: grieving my mother, who died in April; grieving for my friends who’ve lost loved ones of their own; grieving for my friends who are dealing with family issues and illnesses; grieving my inability to write much; grieving that I have to go to so many zoom meetings; grieving for my kid who is spending his “carefree” college days back home in his childhood bedroom, learning and socializing online.

I want our pre-pandemic lives back.

The other day — a decidedly tough one for me — I ate three-quarters of a package of pepper jack cheese for lunch. Nothing else. I started by carving off a little chunk, and then another, and another, and stopped when, horrified, I realized just how much cheese I had eaten. Then I washed it all down with a big cup of coffee. The lunch of the grief-stricken and stressed, I guess.

Today, my soul was crying out for something warm and filling and nourishing; it said no to cheese-a-thons, no to a tablespoon of peanut butter from the jar in the refrigerator, no to some old grapes.

My better angels won out this day: I made red lentil soup.

It’s a cheap, nutritious, quick-and-easy soup to put together. Some chopping, some stirring, and in a half hour you have a pot full of some of the most delicious, fragrant, comfort food out there.

I just had a nice big bowl for lunch, savoring every spoonful. My house smells warm and spicy. My wish is for you today is to enjoy that, too.

So, here’s my (very flexible) recipe for red lentil soup:

1. Chop up two big onions.

2. Peel and dice a couple carrots. I use at least two big ones. If you really love carrots, use three. Or four.

3. Mince at least four cloves of garlic. Today, I used six, and my house smells amazing.

4. Gather together your spices: a tablespoon of cumin; a couple shakes of cayenne pepper; salt and pepper (which I forgot to add today, and the soup was still amazing).

5. Grab your favorite soup pot and heat some olive oil in it.

6. When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic and sauté for a bit.

7. When the onions are translucent and the garlic is fragrant, throw in the spices and add two tablespoons of tomato paste. I use tomato paste in a tube so I don’t waste any.

8. When it’s all well-mixed, throw in two quarts of chicken stock. I use the organic chicken stock in a box that I get from Costco.

9. Throw in a cup of water, two heaping cups of red lentils, and the diced carrots.

10. Bring it all to a boil; then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer.

11. Let the soup simmer for 30 minutes.

12. Enjoy!

This red lentil soup was just what I needed today, topped it with the pepper jack cheese I had left over.


Are you pandemic cooking? If so, what are you making to feed your soul? Send your stories and/or recipes and pictures to maria@thelivingstonpost.com.


 

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Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as a reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. These days, she runs The Livingston Post, and is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse.

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