Monday, December 7, 2009

Vegetarian week

For one week, I am going vegetarian. I'm not making a statement -- I just need to get a handle on my eating and eat a tad lighter this week.

It's an experiment I've thought about doing before, but never quite accomplished. Tonight's meal -- our Monday night family dinner with two of our kids, our daughter-in-law, and soon-to-be son-in-law -- will be a hearty lentil soup recipe I found in "Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen," the author of one of my favorite non-meat cookbooks, "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone." I could make my mom's version of lentil soup, a family favorite for years, but thought I would give this one a try because it adds spinach to the base. I'll double the batch to have leftovers for lunch. I know my husband will ask, "Where's the kielbasa?" -- the must in mom's soup. Not this week, Jack.

Madison suggests adding a California Pinot Noir to your meal. Great suggestion. Giving up meat, chicken and fish is one thing. Giving up alcohol is something entirely different!

1 1/2 cups brown or mixed lentils, soaked if possible
2 to 4 Tblsp. olive oil, plus extra for serving
1 large onion, finely diced
1 carrot, grated or finely diced
1 red bell pepper, toasted, peeled and chopped, or 1 bottle roasted red peppers, chopped
2 Tblsp. chopped parsley
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tblsp. tomato paste
1 Tblsp. prepared mustard
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 bay leaf
6 to 8 cups water, vegetable stock, or chicken stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hefty bunch of spinach, stems removed, leaves washed and chopped
Chopped mint or parsley for garnish
Red wine vinegar to taste
  • If you haven't soak the lentils, cover them with hot water and set them aside while you start the rest of the soup.
  • Warm the oil in a wide soup pot, Add the onion, carrot, red pepper and parsley. Cook over medium heat, stirring now and then, until the onion is softened and starting to color, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, then stir in the tomato paste and mustard, working both into the vegetables and cooking until there's a film on the bottom of the pot.
  • Pour in the wine, scrape up the pan juices, then simmer until partially reduced after a few minutes.
  • Drain the lentils and add them to the pot with the bay leaf and water, using the larger amount if the lentils were soaked only briefly.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook for 30 minutes. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and continue cooking until the lentils are soft, another 10 to 20 minutes. Taste for salt and season with pepper.
  • Add the spinach to the soup and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Taste the soup and add the mint and a little vinegar to sharpen the flavors.
  • Four serving ideas:
  • Shave thin slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago cheese over the soup before serving.
  • Peel, seed and dice one or two tomatoes -- and stir them into the hot soup at the end.
  • Add a cup or so of cooked pasta to the soup just before serving.The pasta may be tiny shapes like orzo or stars or bigger pieces such as little shells or snails.
  • Puree the lentils until very smooth, then add the spinach and any of the garnishes suggested. Makes 2 quarts.

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