Moments of my life are an incredibly odd, barely-anyone-is-in-the-audience musical. I frequently have a song in my head related to what I’m thinking about. Sometimes it’s my own snazzy made-up tune, other times it surprises me from the basement of my brain. Harry “benefits” from these songs quite regularly. He’d thinks it’d be funny to highlight my antics on a YouTube channel. Today’s post has me singing The Archies, “Sugar, Sugar.” Feel free to join me in your own at-home musical now or thank me for the earworm later.
I’ve realized that if you scroll through my blog recipes, it’s a little deceiving. I am quick to post favorite sweet recipes, the treats that punctuate our life, and less apt to share what is sustaining us between those moments. I’m basically showing you our exclamation points while leaving out the text. And those exclamation posts are rolling in sugar.
There are various reasons for this pattern here. I typically follow recipes for desserts and they last long enough that I can sneak a picture or two without much fuss. In contrast, I’m a very practical cook. During peak produce seasons our meals are made from whatever the farm boxes and garden have provided. I throw a bunch of vegetables together in a pan and roast them, make a curry, piece together a soup, make a vegetable-rich pasta dish, or lay out various picnic-style nibbles, like cheese, eggs, bread, salad and fruit. Some of these meals feel worthy of sharing here, but I rarely think about photographing what I’ve cooked prior to us consuming it, let alone writing down the steps for how I made something. So, it doesn’t happen and I forget what I did a few months later, making up another soup instead.
I’m here to set the record straight. With a treasured soup recipe and an itty-bitty commentary on sugar.
In general, I like our approach to sugar. I don’t demonize it. I view it a lot like I view alcohol. We remain mindful that it can become addictive, over-consumed and lead to significant problems, but as an occasional treat it’s fine (for us). Basically, the only time I embrace sugar as a main ingredient is in desserts. I bake about once a week with whole fats and usually some percentage of whole grain flours. These desserts are rich and satisfying, so we rarely end up eating five cookies or three muffins in one sitting. Rarely.
Unfortunately, it takes dedicated label reading to ensure that sugar remains solely in desserts.
If you run into me at a grocery store and see me cursing at yogurt or a loaf of bread under my breath, it’s because I’ve just read the label. I am concerned that sugar has invaded the ingredient list of almost everything one finds on a shelf in grocery stores. It’s being used liberally in places few would expect it, turning savory, would-be-healthy foods into candy. Pasta sauces, salad dressings, crackers and dried fruit are being pumped with sweeteners. Now I’m occasionally even re-reading ingredient lists of things I buy regularly to confirm they haven’t changed. I’ve noticed that as popular brands get bought off by bigger companies, sugar gets added or increased.
Our everyday food routine is pretty simple and mostly sugar free. We drink water and things steeped in water. We rarely buy juice and almost never purchase soda. Our regular breakfast rotation includes oatmeal and eggs. One weekend morning we eat buttermilk pancakes that are sweetened with maple syrup (there’s no sugar in my batter, unlike boxed mixes). I make a maple syrup and brown sugar sweetened granola somewhat regularly. Weekday lunches for the boys include simple vegetarian sandwiches, a hard-boiled egg for Charlie, some cheeses, sliced fruit and veggies. Harry and I usually eat leftovers from a big dish of whatever I make Sundays (chili, soup, etc…), a salad or a sandwich. Our dinners are typically quite basic, too. Rice and roasted veggies, soft tacos, pastas, salads, soups and occasionally meat or fish with vegetable sides. Last night the boys ate quesadillas and frozen peas heated in butter while Harry and I finished off leftovers. This isn’t unusual. It’s the simplicity that helps us maintain the pattern.
This particular soup has nourished us for many winters. Years ago a relative handed me a newspaper clipping with the recipe and I risked it, despite hesitations with the lentils. It was my first exposure to red lentils and I wasn’t yet familiar enough with Melissa Clark to know that I could trust her taste. I immediately loved them ten times more than other lentils, so I’ve been making this soup multiple times a year for six years. I’ve tweaked it a bit along the way to suit our desires: thickening it up a bit, adding more carrots. We like it this way, but I also appreciate that it’s a very forgiving soup. Fewer lentils, more carrots, more lentils, fewer carrots. It can all work out. Just add broth or water if it’s too thick for your taste. The flavors will be nice either way. It’s a hearty, nourishing soup with enough lemon to remind you that spring will come.
Red Lentil Soup with Lemon
Slightly adapted from Melissa Clark’s NYT recipe Yields 6-8 servings
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 white or yellow onions, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- A pinch or two of cayenne, ground chili powder or paprika, more to taste
- 1 quart (4 cups) chicken or vegetable broth (plus more broth, or water, if too thick)
- 2 cups red lentils (rinsed and picked through)
- 3-4 large carrots, peeled and diced
- Juice of 1 lemon, more to taste
- Fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped, to garnish (optional)
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic, sauteing until softened and golden, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and spices. To prevent burning, stir constantly for a couple minutes until the spices are fragrant. Add the broth, lentils and carrot and bring to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and reduce the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook about 20-30 minutes, stirring here and there, until the lentils are soft.
Puree at least half of the soup using an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor. (Be extra careful with hot soup and blenders.) Taste for salt and texture, adding salt, pepper, broth, water and/or further blending as desired. Stir in the lemon juice. Top with cilantro or parsley and maybe a drizzle of olive oil or dusting of chili powder.