Winter weather troubles require meal solutions

Weekends away from home with late-evening returns. Driving deterred by freak snowstorms. Twenty-four-hour power outages. All these recent scenarios have called for quick, easy, nourishing, comforting food.

There’s good reason to reiterate that homemade soups in the freezer are mealtime solutions on problematic days. But my family’s circumstances have been trying enough over the past few weeks that I’ve resorted to commercially canned soup, which I’d gone a good year without eating.

A better bet is a hearty, slightly spicy, body- and heartwarming stew, such as this classic Moroccan lentil dish augmented with chickpeas and bits of thin pasta noodles. All are pantry staples that I recently simmered with homemade chicken stock for additional flavor and healthful properties. And this recipe makes enough to freeze a quart or so after serving a family of four.

The spice palette used here makes for an intriguing alternative to the typical split-pea or lentil soup. Yet it’s mild enough for kids, particularly with a side of steamed rice and warm flatbread.

Tribune News Service photo

Harira (Lentil Soup)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or butter

1 large onion, peeled and finely diced, about 2 cups

4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon dried ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper

2 teaspoons turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron

1 cinnamon stick or 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 cups diced ripe tomato, fresh or canned

2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves, or 1 tablespoon minced celery

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Salt, to taste

1 cup brown lentils, rinsed

1 cup red lentils, rinsed

1 cup canned chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans), rinsed

1/4 pound angel hair pasta or vermicelli, broken into 1-inch pieces

Lemon wedges, for serving

Put the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened and lightly colored, for 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger, pepper, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, saffron and cinnamon. Cook for about 2 minutes more.

Add the tomato, celery leaves and cilantro and bring to a brisk simmer. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes until mixture somewhat thickens, then add 1 teaspoon salt, the brown lentils, red lentils and chickpeas. Add 8 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, covered with lid ajar.

Let soup simmer for 30 minutes, then taste broth and adjust salt. Cook for 1 hour more at a gentle simmer, until lentils are soft and creamy. It may be necessary to add more liquid from time to time to keep soup from being too porridge-like. It should be on the thick side, but with a pourable consistency. (With every addition of water, taste and adjust for salt).

Just before serving, add the pasta and let cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Ladle soup into small bowls and pass lemon wedges for squeezing. Soup may be made in advance and refrigerated. If it thickens, thin with water or broth when reheating, and adjust salt.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from a recipe by David Tanis in the New York Times.

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