Friday, February 22, 2008

Drawing Boards

I left the gym last night in a fowl mood after another sub-par run. This mood was exacerbated by a number of factors: ever-present freezing temperatures outside; high humidity inside the gym, which makes it nearly impossible for me to breath; disappointment that I’m becoming a worse runner instead of a better one; overcrowding on the treadmills due to the high concentration of aging frat boys who patronize my gym; hatred for my job; hunger; and PMS.

Whew. Feels good to get that off my chest.

My irrational anger was directed at MM for approximately five minutes before he fed me chocolate, which seemed to take the edge off my emotions. He offered to take me to dinner, but I had bought the ingredients to make a lentil soup recipe from the newest edition to my cookbook collection: Veganomicon. And I didn't want all my hard shopping to go to waste.

MM and I really enjoy cooking together, and since neither of us claims to be very good at it, there’s a marked lack of judgment involved in the process. Whatever happens, happens. We (or at least, I) are prepared for not-so-fabulous outcomes. He'll eat anything anyway, and I can make a meal out of toast and ice cream, so we're usually covered should something go terribly wrong with a dish.

Enter Veganomicon.

I bought this cookbook at Borders with a 40 percent off coupon on Tuesday and immediately was entranced by not only the recipes, but the writing. The authors, Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, are witty and charming, obviously far-left-of-center when it comes to the vegan lifestyle, but manage to not come off as too intense to those of us who are, let’s say, part-time vegan neophytes. You know, just dipping our proverbial toes in animal-product-free waters.

I felt a lot was riding on this recipe. When Isa and Terry wrote, “This is the last lentil soup recipe you will ever need,” I wanted to believe them. I mean, after reading nearly one-third of the recipes in their cookbook, I've come to think of them as my edgy, counter-culture friends and close, personal vegan gurus. Of course, that makes me sound crazy, and this is actually the only lentil soup recipe I’ve ever tried, so I can’t really be the judge of superlatives and absolutes and whatnot.

French Lentil Soup with Tarragon and Thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried tarragon
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon paprika (Hungarian if you’ve got it; P.S. I didn’t, nor do I know the difference)
5 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced (I used Roma, which I found, with a little help from the Internets, are an Italian variety of plum tomatoes)
6 cups water or vegetable broth (I used 4 cups vegetable broth, 2 cups water)
2 cups French lentils
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat a large pot over medium heat and add oil. Sauté the onion and carrots for about 10 minutes, until onions have browned a bit. Add the garlic, tarragon, thyme, and paprika, and sauté for 2 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and a little splash of water if necessary, and stir to deglaze the pot. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.

2. Add the water, lentils, bay leaves, salt, and pepper, then cover and bring to a boil. Once the soup is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. If the soup looks too thin, uncover and simmer for a couple more minutes. If it looks too thick, add a little more water.

Don't judge me and my camera phone photography. I plan to get a new digital camera soon.

The soup, which we ate with pumpernickel bread, was good. So good, in fact, MM blatantly ignored Isa’s and Terry’s advice, “After three helpings, keep the lid on it to retain some sense of dignity,” and ate four bowls. He’s got no dignity. And apparently, a lightning fast metabolism, but that’s another story.

So the recipe was a hit, taste-wise, and easy enough for the novice cook to master, but a rather long, if not-so-involved process (it took well over an hour from start to finish). Ultimately, I only have one complaint: I love lentils as much as the next lentil-lover, but if I make this soup again, I will only use one cup of lentils. By the time both MM and I had had a couple of servings, there wasn’t much broth, just a mountain of soggy lentils. I guess I’m just a broth kinda gal. Know what I’m saying?

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