Soup. Such a simple dish, such a powerful platform to deliver local flavors and nourishment. I not only have a long personal connection to soup but also a newfound interest in the varied history of this dish.
A pot of soup always seems to bring people together. In a sense, it is kind of an intimate dish. I’ve brought soup to friends in need and parents welcoming new life into their family circle. I think about the big pot of chili we served at a men’s homeless shelter a few years back, or the cast iron pot filled to the brim with steaming Ribollita during a joyful time of camping in the San Juan Islands with friends. I think about my grandmother’s huge steel pot simmering on the stove with a thick batch of pesto minestrone and fresh pasta noodles during summers as a child. Then there is my mother’s chicken noodle soup which always seems to appear whenever my husband or I are in the throws of a bad cold. Lastly, I cannot help but think of my favorite spicy pork and kale stew served with long rice noodles which always warms my soul, especially during these months of transition from light to darkness. It seems as though so many of my lifelong memories and emotions are tied to one pot of soup or another.
Soup is not only a means of community and nourishment for my body and soul, it has a long history of influence. According to a NPR article from February 2013 on the history of soup, humans have likely been concocting soup for nearly 25,000 years in some places. Some have even argued that Neanderthals were making broth 200,000 to 28,000 years ago as a result of rendering fat from animal bones to fulfill dietary needs; however, this is just speculation. Furthermore, soup is nutritious, filling, fairly simple to throw together, crosses many borders and boundaries, and is very much influenced by local ingredients and taste. It can be easily served and enjoyed by people of most life circumstances and experiences; prepared and consumed by both settled and nomadic cultures, the rich and poor, and the healthy and ill.
One of my favorite soups in particular which I have been wanting to share for a while now is a lentil soup. I stumbled across this recipe in an issue of Bon Appétit from November 2008. Lentils also have a long history (though not quite like soup). They first made an appearance over 9,500 years ago when they were uncovered in Greece, Syria, and Israel. The ancient Greeks were considered lovers of lentil soup. As proclaimed by Aristophanes, a Greek dramatist and playwrighter (c. 446 – c. 386 BC),”You, who dare insult lentil soup, sweetest of delicacies…” (which is hard to argue with). Lentil soup is also mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 25:30-34) when Esau is prepared to give up his birthright for a pot of fragrant lentil soup being cooked by his brother, Jacob. According to Jewish culture, lentil soup is often served at times of mourning, as the roundness of the lentil represents a complete cycle of life. Then there are French lentils (included in the recipe below), otherwise known as Le Puy green lentil from the region of Le Puy in France which are regulated by the European Union and held to a rigorous set of clearly defined standards.
This soup, in particular, has been a longstanding staple in my household for many years which my husband can attest, for better or worse (lentils are not so easy on the intestinal track for some). I love the history that is encompassed in this soup. I also love how easy it is to throw together with a couple ingredients and how hearty, healthy, and full it is of vibrant flavors. While lentil soup is often served in times of mourning in the Jewish culture, I serve it as a nourishment to my soul when I am feeling drained or defeated in the depths of Winter and Spring in the Pacific Northwest. What makes this particular lentil soup so special encompasses many factors. It is a basic soup yet is transformed with a bit of curry powder or garam masala, and a puree of lemon, chickpeas, garlic, and olive oil which gives this soup an incredibly creamy, indulgent texture. This recipe is truly a gem that I hope you get a chance to bring into your home.
Molly Wizenberg’s Curried Lentil Soup
Adapted from Bon Appétit (November 2008)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced into half moons
2 large garlic cloves, chopped, divided
2 tablespoons (or more) curry powder or garam masala
1 cup French green lentils, rinsed
4 1/4 cups water, divided
1 15- to 16-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained, rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, optional
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and carrot, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until onion is soft and translucent, stirring occasionally. Add half of chopped garlic and sauteed for about 4 minutes longer. Add 2 tablespoons curry powder or garam masala and stir for about 1 minute until fragrant. Add lentils and 4 cups of water. Season with additional salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Simmer for approximately 30 minutes until lentils are tender.
While the soup is simmering, puree chickpeas, lemon juice, 1/4 cup water, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and remaining garlic in a blender or food processor.
Once the lentils are tender, add the chickpea puree to the lentil soup and finish with a pat of butter (optional). Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional curry powder, if desired. I usually add at least 1/2-1 tablespoon more at this point. Serve and enjoy with a crusty piece of good bread.