Denise Goldberg's blog

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Soup season

Stirring up a big pot of soup, comfort food, warmth on cool (or cold!) days...

I tend to make soup in the colder months of the year, filling a very large stock pot with interesting ingredients, making enough for a number of hearty meals. I freeze the leftovers - yes, most of contents of my big pot - in meal-sized containers. I fooled myself into thinking that I follow recipes, but then...

Someone asked for a copy of the recipe I use for red lentil soup. I grabbed the cookbook, read the recipe, and realized that the concoction that I'd just created had little resemblance to the recipe I thought I was using.

Here's the original recipe, from Ismail Merchant's Indian Cuisine:

Red Lentil Soup
Masoor Dal Shorba

Preparation & cooking time: about 30 minutes

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium-size onion, peeled & chopped
12 peppercorns
4 bay leaves, crumbled
3 3/4 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound masoor dal (split red lentils), picked over, washed, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 dry red chiles, seeded (optional)
1/4 - 1/2 inch piece fresh ginger root, grated

Head the oil in a large saucepan over low head. Add the onion & cook until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the peppercorns & bay leaves, cook 5 minutes longer.

Add the chicken stock, 1 cup water, the drained red lentils, parsley, chiles, and salt to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

When soup begins to boil, add the grated ginger. Continue cooking for another 10 minutes, or until the lentils are very soft, and serve.
Following this recipe yields a very nice soup, but it appears it's not a soup that I've had for quite a long time - even though I make red lentil soup quite often (during soup season). As it turns out, the last two batches of red lentil soup that I made shared only a few of the ingredients listed above.

Instructions for my version of the soup differ just a little from those shown above. I start by sauteing onions and garlic in a small amount of vegetable oil. Then I add broth and seasonings. Once the broth is close to boiling, I add the red lentils, changing the heat to low, starting a slow (but quick) cook.

I usually use 8 cups of vegetable broth and a pound of red lentils because I like to have lots of soup to put away. One cooking session usually gives me 10 to 12 big servings of soup, some for lunch the following week, some to be frozen for future meals.

Here are my ingredient lists for the latest two variations of this recipe:

Soup #1, red lentil base:
8 cups vegetable broth
1 pound red lentils
1 large onion
several garlic cloves
1-2 tablespoons ground cumin
red pepper flakes
ground ginger
1 15-ounce can chick peas
1 pound carrots, sliced
6 stalks celery, sliced
4 sweet potatoes, quartered and sliced
1 pound corn (frozen)
1 15-ounce block of extra firm tofu, cubed

Soup #2, red lentil + tomato base:
7 cups vegetable broth
1 pound red lentils
1 large onion
several garlic cloves
1 tablespoons ground cumin
1-2 teaspoon basil leaves
red pepper flakes
1 26-ounce box chopped tomatos
1 15-ounce can chick peas
1 pound carrots, sliced
6 stalks celery, sliced
1 pound corn (frozen)
1 pound edamame (frozen)
2 small zucchini, quartered and sliced
1 15-ounce block of extra firm tofu, cubed
Cooking time is usually under an hour, with my time in the kitchen actively working, combining ingredients, slicing vegetables working out to somewhat less than that.

It doesn't look like I followed the recipe, does it?

So tell me, do you follow recipes, or do you use them as loose suggestions?