Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Selfish Chef and Stupendous Saffron Lentil Soup

Earlier this week, it hit me.  I am in love with food and may be slightly obsessed.  Ok, let me clarify.  It's the 'can't wait to try new recipes, will slave over dinner for hours, am constantly in search of ways to turn a kidney bean into something amazing, and eagerly pack my lunch for the next day using last night's leftovers' kind of obsessed.  I admit to it, I own it, let's move on.

It wasn't until recently that I realized how much I really love doing the shopping and cooking in our house.  It was on a Monday evening and the husband was trying to help me 'take a load off" by offering to do the shopping as he heads home from work.  I think I might have had a meltdown.  The thought of abandoning my beloved routine scared the crap out of me.  No more weekly trips to Costco for fruit and then Whole Foods for everything else?  You mean, not get my favorite zero calorie- stevia sweetened iced tea as a weekly treat for a shopping trip well done?  I froze, and saw my world spiraling out of control.  That, dear husband, is one burden I find myself unwilling to share. 

In an effort to be a good man he then offered to help make the meals.  More panic.  There may have been beads of sweat somewhere on my forehead as I envisioned a mass of crusted pots and pans, but even more terrifying- an abundant use of oils!  I tried to explain that this was one more task I just could not bare to part with. Bring home the occasional Mediterranean meal from the local Pita BBQ?  Sure, once in a while.  Regularly cook ornate meals using, potentially, up to a half cup of oil and who knows how much butter?  Too much for me to handle. 

I never knew until recently (and this may sound totally lame) that vegetables can be sauteed using water.  WHAT?  Who would do such a thing?  It seems unnatural!  Turns out it works really well and the onions still get translucent and carrots still become bright orange and tender. (Thanks "Forks Over Knives" for that life altering lesson!)

Given the husband's recent interest in all things Mediterranean  related,  I decided to dabble in making lentil soup.  The recipes I found didn't make me shout and holler in excitement at the ingredients...until I found one with saffron.  Mmmm.  Saffron.  Known by many as the most expensive (ounce for ounce) spice in the world.  The brightly colored, orangey-yellow stamens of the crocus, once soaked, give off an unmistakable perfume and release a flavor as rich as their price tag.  I knew I had to give this recipe a go.  The flavor was great, said the husband, but the texture was like water.  That problem was easily remedied by tossing about half of the lentils into the blender with a little liquid from the pot.  Twenty seconds of puree later, the thickness was more to his liking and resembled a cream soup, sans the cream (because, as you remember, dairy does evil and terrible things to the body!)

The one alteration I would like to make next time, but probably won't because of the blondes (aka my 6 year old daughters), is to kick up the spice factor just a bit.  I purposely made it mild in hopes they would try it.  They did, but the rest of the pot was a little too tame for my personal taste. If heat isn't your thing, then the recipe is probably perfect as is.  If spice is what you crave, add some garlic chili paste (you can find it on the aisle with Asian foods) until you hit your favorite level of fire.  Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Stupendous Saffron Lentil Soup

2 medium carrots, chopped
1 cup chopped cauliflower
1/2 cup diced celery
2-4 cloves of chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly chopped ginger root
1 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes
8-10 freshh basil leaves
3 cups water
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
pinch of saffron (a little goes a long way!)
1 cup lentils

 In a pot, combine carrots, cauliflower, celery, garlic, ginger root, cumin, cayenne pepper, turmeric, and basil leaves.  Sautee until the vegetables are transparent, using just enough water to keep the blend from sticking to the pan.

When the vegetables and spices have softened and produced a brilliant fragrance, add water, stock, saffron, and lentils.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 40-45 minutes. 

If you are happy with a brothy soup, feel free to stop here.  If you are looking for something a little more creamy, ladel the majority of lentils and a splash of liquid into the blender.  Puree for about 20 seconds and return to the rest of the recipe.  Stir and serve!  

As a rough estimate, this recipe should come out to about 70 calories per one cup serving. Worried about being hungry later?  Not a problem.  It is extremely filling and gives you the kick you need to keep going.

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