Cold and Rainy Day Go To Food…The Answer Is Lentils!!!
On cold and rainy days I, like so many others, seek a bit of solace in comfort food. There is something about the dreary weather that just makes me want to reach out for something delicious and nostalgic, and lentils totally fit that bill.I have loved these tiny beans since I was little, but we never ate them in our house, as they were not part of my mom’s basic cooking repertoire. However, my mom’ wonderful best friend who lived two houses down from us was old school Italian. She cooked everything under the sun, every day, and always cooked extra for me. One day, she came to have coffee with my mom, bringing with her a heaping bowl of homemade lentil soup– for me of course! One taste of that delectable garlicky thick broth and tiny beans and I was in Heaven! Hooked for life!!! And of course, once she knew I loved the lentils, she made sure to send them down to my house each and every time she prepared them for her family. Her many ‘culinary kindnesses’ to me have never been forgotten, and although she is long gone, I think of her quite often.
When my twin daughters became vegan, an obvious cause of concern was that their diet would contain adequate daily protein. I am happy to say that, as conscientious vegans, they are extremely attuned to their protein needs and servings and have incorporated foods such as quinoa, almonds, tofu, etc. into their daily regimen. And ever so thankfully, fitting perfectly under the vegan and protein umbrella are lentils!! My glorious lentils!!! Yaaay!!! Seriously, you have no idea how happy that makes me!!
After hemp and soybeans, lentils have the third highest level of protein of any legume. They are also chocked full of dietary fiber, folate, vitamin B1, and other minerals, are an excellent source of iron and, at less than $2 for a one pound bag, that’s a lot of good dietary bang for the vegan buck!! Wow, that’s really hard to say fast and out loud….
Historically, lentils have been able to grow and flourish in India and Turkey because the crop is so very tolerant to drought and arid weather conditions. Surprisingly, Canada is the largest exporter of lentils world wide, with Saskatchewan the largest producer. Who knew, right? Many cultures also embrace lentils as part of their tradition and food culture. It is part of the traditional meal for Jews in mourning, as the circular shape of the lentil exemplifies the life cycle of birth to death. And Italians traditionally eat lentils on New Years Eve to ring in a prosperous new year, with the many round lentils representing a symbol of coins and thus, prosperity.
Also keep in mind that there are many varieties of lentils such as green, yellow, black, brown, etc. and within the colors, different sub-species. Even the most basic supermarkets now stock some variety of lentils, either pre-bagged or loose. And while I enjoy all the varieties for salads, side dishes, mix-ins with quinoa, etc. my lentils of choice for soup are of the brown variety called Pardina lentils. I use Goya brand, and ‘Pardina’ is clearly stated on the label. I like these lentils because although they have a tiny, delicate texture, they cook relatively fast and do hold up well to the cooking process, retaining their bean shape and consistency. If I wanted mushy something, I’d eat a bowl of oatmeal. I do not like mushy lentils!!!! I also like this particular lentil, since it also holds up extremely well to the freezing process. I like to make the whole 16 oz bag at once, and freeze the leftovers. And I kid you not, if you take care reheating the defrosted lentils and add just a small amount of good quality vegetable broth, you will never know the difference. And by keeping some in the freezer like I do, you have a wonderful meal to come home to or something wonderful to serve your surprise guest vegan! I assure you, they will love you for it!!!
So my friends, here is my tried and true lentil soup recipe. Coupled with a salad and some crusty bread, what could be better on a rainy day? Wow! My mom’s friend would be so very proud of me….
Vegan Lentil Soup
1 16 oz bag Goya Pardina lentils
8 cups water
13 oz marinara sauce (which is about ½ a big jar) jarred or fresh
2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, 1 med onion chopped or to taste or frozen miropoix (see previous post)
2 cloves (or more to taste) chopped garlic
2 tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, and Italian seasoning to taste
2 Tbls red wine vinegar
½ cup chopped fresh parsley (can substitute dried, use less of course!)
Gravy Master, optional (it is vegan)
Delicately rinse lentils under cold water in a very fine colander since the beans are so tiny they may slip through. Add beans to a large sauce pot, and cover with water and stir. Add remaining ingredients, except Gravy Master. Bring to a rapid boil, then stir and lower to simmer, covered for about 40 minutes or until lentils are tender. Taste and re-season if desired. Do not feel as if you have done something wrong if the beans need to be re-seasoned a few times to taste. I am not a food scientist so I can’t tell you why, but I do know that dried beans can often be inconsistent in that additional seasoning is needed sometimes and yet, not other times. I then only add a dash of the Gravy Master at the end to enhance the color if the soup is a bit too pale for me. This is purely aesthetic and does not impact the flavor in any way. I like to serve my lentils over a tiny bit of pasta, such as ditalini, which I always cook separate. Do not freeze any leftover pasta with the lentils (or potato for that matter), as cooked starches in soups do not freeze well at all. Always cook the pasta fresh, and always separate!!!
I should mention that sometimes I cook a pot of lentils either while I am actually making another dinner, or even after dinner while I am watching television, checking emails, reading, etc. By the time the lentils are done and sufficiently cooled down, I merely place the whole covered pot into the refrigerator. Dinner the next day is a total breeze then, for sure!!
So if this will be your first time eating lentil soup, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did the first time I tasted it as a little girl. And do as my mom’s wonderful friend did, share it with someone you care about, and create a special healthy food memory, just for them! From you!! After all, sharing is the true whole food of the soul!!!
Ciao for now–Laura