I expected for A’s recipe to make a ton of food when I remembered the last time we cooked together. She and I stayed friends after being college roommates and I visited her family for almost a week; we decided to make curry. We massively misjudged how much coconut cream, rice, chicken, spices, everything we needed and ended up filling a big stock pot with spicy, warm goodness – it’s a good problem to have in January though we were eating it for days. We didn’t follow a recipe, but rather the laws of push and pull – when it became apparent that we’d added too much rice, she threw on more chicken to brown; when the sauce got weak and thin, I added in more yogurt. The problem being, as always, that you cannot take anything out, scale it back to a manageable size.
A has watched me in so many stages of life, talking me through many huge decisions, and even now she knows just what to give me: while others lavished me with the cheesy, crispy, delectable dishes that meant home to them, A gave me a dish that was so nutrient filled and simple that I almost judged it too healthy. She knows that I struggle to eat enough vegetables; she knows so much that she sent a recipe that would build me, make me stronger.
A’s lentil soup starts with sautéing vegetables (a green pepper, an onion, tons of garlic, mushrooms) in butter, so it wasn’t all roughage, but then it gets filled up with spinach, tomato, water, and lentils. The whole thing has to cook for an hour but much of that time is idle; I used it to mop and to make two other recipes, because I have a busy week and wouldn’t be able to get to them otherwise, but it seemed fitting that there was time for reflection bundled into A’s soup. She is a thoughtful person, not in the “sweet and considerate” way (though she is that too) but also just a person who thinks a lot, who has never allowed adulthood to crowd contemplation out of her days.
In a book I’ve been reading as part of my food memoir stint, Blood, Bones, and Butter, the author Gabrielle Hamilton describes hunger as specific; be it hunger for cream or hunger for salt or hunger for crisp, it’s always connected to something in particular. In her list of cravings, she mentioned “watery.” I felt like I had rarely had a craving for watery – wouldn’t that just be thirst? Then I thought of the brothy soup served at Japanese restaurants, and of watermelon, and of celery, and I realized there were cravings for watery things.
When I served the soup to Husband, he liked it a lot despite finding it watery (also despite having it alongside two other dishes with much more flavor and intensity). He said that while it was bland, it satisfied a craving he’d been having – warm and strengthening, with just a twinge of pepper at the end and not complicated. It surprised me, given how flavorful he likes his food, but it also didn’t surprise me, because he is so like that soup: hearty and simple and good for you. He is not a flashy person, not excessive in almost any way. I appreciate that about him, and about the soup.
A and I did not date in college (anyone, not just each other; though at work they referred to us as a couple jokingly because we left together most days. We lived in the same house!). When we both finally found someone, we began our relationships within months of each other and have now been with those same two men for years – our relationships don’t look anything alike but we’ve weathered many of the stages at very similar times. A knows all my hopes and dreams and how I see Husband very well, so it seems fitting for her to also send me a soup recipe that would remind me of him.
The soup was good even though I had no mozzarella to finish it off, and perfect for a January evening. Having all that brightness in all that cloudy broth was exactly what a knowledgeable friend would have wanted for me. It also was exactly the right amount for one dinner and lunch leftovers, which is more than I can say for our bucket of curry a few years ago.
Lentil Soup (4-6 servings)
½ cup lentils
½ head garlic chopped
1 small onion or ½ large, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, diced
1 cup spinach chopped
salt, pepper, oregano
2 tbsp butter
1 green pepper chopped
2 or 3 tomatoes, diced
water (8-10 cups?)
Put pepper, onion, mushroom, and garlic in bottom of large pot with butter over medium heat (don’t burn garlic!). After veggies soften, add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. When it reaches a boil, lower to a simmer and cook for about 1 hour. Add more time if lentils are not cooked through (should be soft and pop from their shells a little). Spices are to taste. I usually end up adding another tbsp of butter. May use a little olive oil in addition to butter in beginning steps. Tastes delicious served with mozzarella on top.