new beginnings, with a side of soup

So obviously I haven’t been here — I’ve been hunched over my laptop hammering out what became a 105-page tome about media development in Sierra Leone. I know my blog entries made it seem like I wasn’t doing much work in Africa, but two-hour “semi-structured interviews conducted with media stakeholders” are not exactly the things that dreams are made of, when it comes to scintillating reading material. My thesis went to the printers (and examiners) last week, and to say I’m at loose ends is like saying Charlie Sheen has done some partying. The pace of life is slowing, my gears are grinding, and I’m generally bewildered. I’m feeling guilty about not having anything to feel guilty about. I’m at school until May but my coursework is done, so my days consist of sleeping in, browsing job boards, eating, cooking, eating more, snacking, yoga, and watching Justin Bieber videos. Clearly I need a more constructive outlet for my energies.

So let’s start small. I made this soup. It is glorious.

My Go-To Lentil Soup

My favourite part of this recipe: you don’t need pre-made stock. Ideal for vegetarians (not me) or lazy people (me). I’ll tell you what the recipe calls for, but in general it’s a pretty flexible soup. I adjust amounts depending on how my fridge/pantry (frantry? I like it) is looking. Of course, when the soup turns out really really well that means I never know how to reproduce it. This recipe makes a lot — you’re definitely looking at a few meals for two, but you’ll be glad.

Heat in a large soup pot over med-high heat:
– 3 tbsp olive oil

Add and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender but not browned, 5 to 10 minutes:
– 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
– 3 medium celery ribs, diced
– 1 large onion, diced
– 3 garlic cloves, minced… I always put more, garlic can do no wrong
– optional: 4 slices of bacon or 2 ounces of pancetta, diced… I usually leave this out, since I add chorizo at the end. But you could also leave it out and stay totally veg, if you swing that way.

Stir in:
– 2 cups dried lentils, rinsed and picked over… I used red lentils, you can use green or brown, whatever.
– 14.5 oz canned diced tomatoes… I always end up putting more, almost double since that’s how big the cans are.
– 1 tsp dried thyme
– 8 cups water

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer until the lentils are tender (30 to 45 minutes). Then stir in:
– 1.5 tsp balsamic vinegar… or just eyeball it/to taste
– 2 tsp salt (1 tsp if using bacon)… ditto
– 1 tsp black pepper... ditto ditto

Serve it up and chow down if you want to go basic, or you can add all kinds of beautiful things towards the end of cooking and let it all simmer a little longer to let the flavours really get down and dirty. Additions: potato/sweet potato cubes, kale, spinach, and/or smoked chorizo sausage are my faves. If you’re doing potato/sweet potato, put it in maybe 10-15 minutes before you want to eat. The sausage or kale/spinach can be put in right before the end, just enough time to heat up — but it still keeps well after the first serving. I find this soup is almost always better the next day. I tend to scale up this recipe (obviously it’s really forgiving in terms of measurements) and freeze some in old yogurt containers. It’s very chunky and filling so it’s even good for dinner… get yourself a baguette or Mtl style bagel, smear with butter and rejoice.

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