Comfort Me With Lentils

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While thinking about this post, I realized that most of what I consider to be comfort foods are dishes that I can’t actually make. Though a tongue sandwich on rye and a bowl of mushroom barley soup define humble cuisine, I never have the ingredients on hand if a craving strikes. Even if I had the recipe for my friend’s mother’s duk guk, or for her grandmother’s jap chae, I doubt that mine would taste as good. Likewise, I couldn’t produce a bowl of curry mee with young tau foo if my life depended on it, and if I long for the soothing properties of scrambled eggs with char siu then I have to get myself to a restaurant. So what’s left, then? It may not sound particularly exciting, but I find my bliss with the humble lentil. I’ve been making variations on lentil soup and stew for years, and below is a “recipe” that I knocked together last night to get me through the week:

3 tablespoons olive or canola oil

1 generous cup puy lentils (NB: I chose puys here because, aside from having some I wanted to use up, they really hold together. Red lentils, my standby, disintegrate quickly, and I wanted a chunky soup.)

1 tennis ball-sized onion, yellow or white, chopped

3-5 garlic cloves, minced, or to taste

2 large carrots, chopped small

2 teaspoons dried rosemary

Salt and black pepper to taste

Water or stock to cover the ingredients (NB: I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you don’t have real stock, you should just use water. Commercial broth/stock is nasty stuff. I used water for this soup, and it turned out perfectly.)

Saute the onion, garlic, and carrots over medium-high heat, taking care not to brown the garlic, until the onion is translucent. Add the lentils and the rosemary and stir. Saute for another minute or so, season with S & P, then add the liquid and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender. Since puys are tough customers and I’m lazy and don’t presoak, this takes upwards of an hour for me. You’ll almost certainly need to add more liquid down the stretch.

Once you think that the lentils are soft enough, it’s time to get out the immersion blender and have at it (or else transfer in batches to a food processor/traditional blender). The end product should be a velvety, thick potage with plenty of bite to it. Some would say that a dish like this requires the smokiness of bacon or ham, but I think that it’s rich enough on its own. If you’re feeling completely decadent, you could crisp up some pancetta or shards of prosciutto as a topping.

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