a lentil soup for writers

saturday dinner: Alexandra’s Greek-style lentil rice soup, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

What is it about writing that makes me hungry for beans and rice? Some of my favorite meals at a writing colony this past summer involved beans and rice. Maybe it’s the protein, maybe it’s the simplicity of one meal in a pot. Maybe it’s the idea of being able to spoon food into my mouth with one hand, while typing on the other–oh, if it were only true that I do get on such writing streaks that I cannot stop to pause even to eat! But, if that were to happen, I couldn’t do that with steak.

So when my friend offered to make a lentil soup during a weekend writing retreat, I happily consented. We were up in the mountains, with the temperatures falling below freezing point at night–the idea of lentil soup seemed so fitting. Autumn hits the Sierras first, and I’m looking forward to many more soup nights over the next months when Autumn arrives in the Bay Area too! Oh, and hopefully lots more productive writing weekends dedicated to my fiction.

I have her permission to type up her recipe for a Greek-style lentil rice soup here. I say Greek-STYLE because we missed a couple of the ingredients that would make it more authentic. Namely, we were missing a splash of vinegar that normally would brighten this dish and add a tanginess that according to my (Greek) friend would make it wholly Greek.

Recipe follows…

1 Tblsp olive oil
1 cup lentils
1 cup rice (we used sticky rice because that is what we had, but basmati is preferred)
1 cup finely chopped onion
at least 5 cloves minced garlic
2-3 cups water (or enough to cover the lentils)
2-3 cups chicken broth (orrrr use 5-6 cups water plus a splash of vinegar instead of chicken broth)

1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tstp cayenne pepper, 4 bay leaves, salt, and pepper to taste

optional: celery (we just didnt have any on hand)
optional: chopped greens like kale.

Saute onions until translucent in olive oil in large sauce pan or dutch oven or stockpot. Add lentils and garlic. Add water and rice and bring to a boil, while stirring. (water should cover lentils and rice by about an inch or so). If you are using celery, add celery at this time, too.

After the lentils have come to a boil, lower heat to simmer and add spices and salt. Simmer for 20 minutes or until lentils are softened and rice is cooked through.

Optional: add chopped greens.

8 responses to “a lentil soup for writers

  1. Very interesting. I’ll bet your friend was in my workshop last year, and is responsible for the fabulous magazine Crux 2006. My best regards to her…

    The soup is interesting because it reminds me a little of mjaddarah, a lentils and rice porridge beloved by Arabs of all stripes. Claudia Roden’s mjaddarah recipe, from her Egyptian Jewish family, is my favorite, better than my own family’s variation.

    You know, I may just make this tonight. The children don’t want to go to the store before dinner so I have to cook what’s on hand. See ya…

  2. The mjaddarah recipe.

    And hi, Alexandra, you wild guppy, you. Hope all is well. We miss you around the Camp. I treasure my copies of Crux…

  3. So I made this soup tonight for supper: just me and the kids, as hubby has his weekly late-night conference call to Hyderabad on Tuesdays.

    It’s excellent and is going to go in the lentil soup rotation. In fact, I am sorry to say that my kids like it better than my classic recipe, which has tomatoes and veg and is more of a minestrone with lentils. The kids (ages 6 1/2 and 5) thought it was MOlly Katzen’s Polka Dot Rice. I let them sprinkle parmesan cheese on it. I also did not add cayenne to the main pot, only to my bowl – yum.

    Now. A word about the instructions as written. Could there be some steps left out? Green lentils take twice as long to cook as white rice, but as written it seems to imply that you put all the liquid (guessing) in all together with both lentils and rice, at once. I did it this way, just to see how it worked. The lentils were way too crunchy after twenty minutes. I gave it another ten minutes and the lentils were acceptably soft while the rice wasn’t mush yet. but not optimal.

    I would change it thus – add lentils, garlic and water (i.e. the 2-3 cup amount) and simmer twenty minutes, THEN add stock and rice, simmer a further twenty minutes. Alexandra, what do you think?

    I also threw in chopped parsley at the last. Next time I might put in chard at about 7 minutes before the end, or spinach even later. I did brighten it up with raspberry vinegar on hand.

    I also love this recipe because I nearly always have the ingredients in the pantry. Thanks so much, Alexandra and C(h)ristine!

  4. Leila–Alexandra is not at fault! These are my hasty notes!
    Yes, add lentils and garlic and water (or chicken stock)…then add rice. I am not sure, but I do think I threw in rice halfway as opposed to at the beginning (we did it so ragtag).

  5. This looks good–very warming–I’ve started thinking about soups as it gets chillier.
    I just went on a weekend writing retreat but I made brownies to take–chocolate also an important writer food.

  6. ooooh! brownies. yes, chocolate is a must. 🙂

  7. Thank for the recipes. I am having friends over on Monday night. I will go with your lentil soup and carrot salad plus my lebanese kibbeh. I will let you know whether they liked it – i.e. for a group of 10.

  8. Looks like a very tasty soup,I’ll be sure to try it out.
    Thanks for the great recipe.

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