Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Magical Study Aid Lentil Soup

So, the nice person brought us carrots. And tomatoes. And celery stalks. And celery root. And, I had to do some work over the weekend. So I recalled my very favorite culinary study aid.

Lentil soup.

Yes, it's not a mistake. I work well with lentil soup. I don't drink coffee - not any more - and while I am an obsessive consumer of herbal teas of all sorts, lentil soup is one of my foods of choice for times when I have to work. This is mostly due to nostalgia.

When I was a student in Jerusalem - living next door to the mythological Frida - my life was full of study-related stress. The well-known method of filling myself with black Turkish coffee would leave me jittery, irritable and, well, quite tired once the effect wore off. In addition, we were all encouraged to work in groups on our assignments. A typical assignment, in law school, would be a story, about half-a-page long, resembling a soap opera or a nonsense stand-up comedy, starring demented people with funny names like Mr. Mean and Mr. Belligerent, who incur the most improbable mishaps and complications in their personal and professional lives. We were expected to solve the mess and say who would win the case, and who would argue what. Some of us were quite good at this, and others found it difficult to dig all the important points out of the story. Me, I was often so fascinated with the crazy plot that I found it hard to focus on the legal issues it included; my mind would run wild, thinking about those people and why their lives had gone awry.

The solution to this problem was to invite my three or four favorite pals from school to my 1970s apartment and work on the assignment together, figuring that four brains were better than one. And it was Jerusalem in the winter, and folks would ride two buses to get to the fun-but-slummy neighborhood where I lived, and they would be cold, and wet. So I would feed them soup.

I had several lentil soup recipes, and they all served me well; this one, I think, is a combination of two different recipes. Naturally, this works really well with many sorts of vegetables one might have in one's house, and it becomes even better after a day or two. Give it a try; it's really good stuff. And who knows, perhaps if we fed it to Mr. Mean and Mr. Belligerent, they'd stop arguing, cancel the lawsuit, and we could all sleep in peace.

Magical Study Aid Lentil Soup

Olive oil
5-6 Garlic Cloves
1 large yellow onion
3 tomatoes
3-4 carrots
2 cups of black/green lentils
3 celery stalks, preferrably with the leaves
2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp curcum (Middle Eastern yellow spice - optional)
a handful of coarsely chopped parsley
water, or vegetable broth
grated good quality goat cheese (optional)

You could soak the lentils beforehand, and it is preferrable, but not essential. If you decide to do it, simply place them in a bowl with water; they'll swell up. Discard the water.
Start with a large soup pot. Heat it over the stove a bit, then pour some olive oil in. When the oil is hot and nearly smoking, chop in garlic cloves and onions, and add cumin, curcum and some of the parsley. Stir until the vegetables are golden and the onions begin to brown.
Then, add the lentils, and chop in the tomatoes, carrots and celery stalks. stir in a bit and mix with the garlic, onion and spices. After everything seems mixed and warmed up, add water or broth to cover. Bring to a boil, then put the lid on and cook for another, say, forty minutes, or until the lentils are very tender. If you make this recipe with red lentils, they'll all dissolve and become puree by now, but black and green lentils tend to retain their shape even when they are tender. Sprinkle the remaining parsley and, if you so wish, the goat cheese, and serve in deep bowls or in large mugs.

There's an interesting twist to this soup. If it's made with less water, you basically end up with a lentil dish which can be served, cold, as a salad. Also yummy, but I find that, to serve this cold, you need to slightly inrease the amount of each spice.

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