Mediterranean Lentil Soup

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I don’t enjoy sports.  Football, for example, doesn’t make me happy.  I was in the band in high school (No, I was not a band geek.  Our band was cool.  We were revered and treated as gods on campus.  Okay, that may be stretching it a little, but we weren’t the stereotypical “band geeks” that Hollywood has depicted.  And I never even went to band camp.).  Anyway, I was in the band, so I attended every single football game during my four years of high school.  But I never watched a single game.  I laughed and talked and let the clarinet section cornrow my hair (I have a lot of hair.  They asked if they could practice.), and I stood up to play “Eye of the Tiger” with everybody else while it registered somewhere in the back of my mind that “Eye of the Tiger” meant that our team had just scored.

I now happily attend football games in which The Boy plays.  He’s a moose.  We live in the South.  Playing football is practically required.  Even though he didn’t see much field time during his first two years of middle school football, I was perfectly content to sit in the bleachers and watch his back as he stood on the sidelines, ready to pounce onto the field when his name was called.  The Redhead sits grudgingly at my side, constantly asking when the game will be over so we can just go to Sonic and get dinner.  Michael is the team photographer, so he’s down on the sidelines.  Our parents come to the home games and cheer.  They don’t mind driving 2 hours to come to a game – even when there’s no guarantee that they’ll get to see The Boy play.  He’ll be in the eighth grade this year – which in middle school terms makes him a senior – and he will likely get A LOT of game time.  And I will be there.  Happily.

DSC_0670See?  Proof that I was not only at a football game, but I was smiling and happy about it!  Actually, this was taken last October after the last game of the season, so that may be why I’m smiling.  I can’t believe how much the kids have grown since then!  The Boy is now the same height as Michael and The Redhead is only a couple of inches shorter than me!

Somewhere around the time that middle school football season starts, college football season starts, as does the NFL season.  On Saturdays, our t.v. will be tuned to a college game.  On Sundays and Mondays, it will be tuned to one – or more – NFL games.  Michael and The Boy will watch and yell and cheer.  The Redhead will be sequestered in her room to watch movies and t.v. of her own choosing.  I will be in the kitchen, making “Football Food.”

In case you don’t know what football food is, I’ll tell you what it is in our house:  it’s lots of snacks – sweet and savory – and some kind of warm something served in a bowl.

Gumbo, chili, jambalaya, beef stew, potato soup, chicken and rice, taco soup.

Now we’re talking.

If I have to endure the sights and sounds of my men watching football and screaming like maniacs (occasionally) just to get to this kind of food, I’m okay with that.

During the summer, when the temperatures around here stay in the high 90’s, I mostly make cool foods (pasta salads, green salads) and grilled foods (to keep from heating up the kitchen).  Those are the foods I like to eat in the summer.  And those are the foods I like to cook in the summer.

But there are just times (regardless of the weather) when you need a warm bowl of something to make you feel good.

I found myself in such a mood earlier this week, but I knew the kids would object to what they refer to as “winter food.”  So I decided to spring something new on them and cook something I have never cooked before.  Lentils.

I don’t have a lot of friends who talk about cooking with lentils.  Maybe it’s a regional thing.  If you’re iffy on where to find them, just look in the section where you find dried beans.

I researched several lentil recipes, liking parts of some, but not liking any whole recipe, so I just adapted and came up with a dish that my kids loved.  As in “Can I have another bowl of that, Mama?” loved.  Michael couldn’t enjoy it with us because of his low-carbing self – remember?  Meat, cheese, eggs? – but I did get him to take a teensey, kitten-sized bite and he really liked the flavors.  But you know what your family likes.  You may want to amp up some of the spices.  I was just taking it easy on my tribe since this was our first “lentil-ing.”

So if you’re in a warm-and-hearty mood – even if that means you have to turn the air conditioning down by about ten degrees – here’s a great recipe for you.  If you’re not in that kind of mood, just keep this one around until the leaves start to fall!

 

Mediterranean Lentil Soup

  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 large onion (softball-sized), chopped (large dice – about the size of actual dice)
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped (small dice – like Tic Tacs)
  • 1 pound of dried lentils
  • 6 cups of chicken stock (or water, if you don’t have stock)
  • 1/8 teaspoon of allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 3 cloves of garlic (pressed or pureed and mixed with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/4 cup of water)

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven.  Stir in the onion and saute until it begins to soften and brown.  Add the red pepper, cooking for 2-3 more minutes.  Stir in the lentils, coating them with oil.  Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover the pot, and cook for 40 minutes.

Stir in the spices and seasonings (Stand with your nose over the pot for a second and inhale that fantastic aroma!).  Re-cover and cook for 20 more minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, prepare the garlic mixture.  After the final 20-minute cooking time has passed, taste the lentils to be sure they are soft.  If not, continue cooking for 10-15 minutes.  If they are soft, turn off the heat, stir in the garlic mixture, and put the lid back on for about 5 minutes.  Now stir again and taste for seasoning.  I added a little more salt at this point.  Serve over rice.

 

Well Duh #1:  To be totally honest, I think I could have just used that minced garlic that comes packed in oil in the little jars near the produce section and been just fine.  The “garlic mixture” thing is not a deal breaker.

Well Duh #2: I’m calling it “Mediterranean” because that’s what the warm flavors (cinnamon, allspice, cumin) make me think of.  Some of my Mediterranean friends may look at this recipe and snicker.  That’s okay.  Come teach me your ways and we’ll call it even!

Well Duh #3:  I was watching Chopped the other day and heard a chef say that he preferred his lentils al dente.  Maybe that’s true or maybe he just said that because he ran out of time and ended up with crunchy lentils.  Whatever.  I’m not an al dente person like the chic and snooty on Food Network.  I like my lentils soft, my pasta limp, my green beans squishy and my asparagus squashy.  I don’t cook things to death.  I just like them done.

Well Duh #4:  Oops, I did it again!  I made too much for us to eat in one sitting.  So I put about half of the lentil soup into a big zippered bag, laid it flat, squished out as much air as possible, and threw it in the freezer.

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I am very blessed that my husband and kids don’t roll their eyes or turn up their noses when I make something new.  Because I try a LOT of things out on them.  They are all really great at trying something and giving an unbiased opinion.  Sometimes they leave half-eaten bowls of something (a subtle way of saying, “I don’t think so.”).  Sometimes they make suggestions (everything from “I think it needs a little more salt.” to “Have you ever tried agar agar?”  Darn you, Food Network!)  And then there’s Michael’s classic “It tastes okay, but you don’t have to make it again.”  Wow.

This dish, however, received a unanimous thumbs-up.   Both kids informed me that it’s a keeper!

Hope you enjoy it, too!

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