Monday, October 13, 2008

hey, I could make dinner with the spare change in my car

I don't even have to say the E word, right? The thing is, most people I know had no money before the world ended last week, so hey. Same old. Tonight is another night of eating in, and eating on the cheap. And what says Depression Couture like lentils? Here's a kick-ass recipe for lentil soup, another food that can go terribly wrong (but doesn't have to.) It's adapted from the indomitable Bryanna Clark Grogan, who calls it Shawrbat'adas Filasteeniya (Palestinian lentil soup.) I'd also like to point out that these proportions will feed four hungry people, at least. That means that the cost per person, not including energy and time (about 45 minutes) is just about 63 cents.

1 large sweet onion: $.40*
1 cup red lentils: $.85
1/4 cup jasmine rice: $.10
1 tsp cumin: $.05
1 tsp turmeric: $.05
1/4 c olive oil: $.55
2 low-sodium vegetable boullion cubes: $.50
salt: ? not much.
total: $2.50

Heat up a nice big soup pot on medium heat. Dice the onion. Add the oil, let it heat up for a moment, then toss in the onion, along with a pinch of salt (to help draw out water and instigate caramelization.) While they're browning, dissolve the boullion cubes in six cups of hot water. (Don't get it from your tap unless you like the taste of heavy metals. Heat it up your own self. ) You can use broth if you want (more on this and life with a juicer at a later date) but I find boullion cubes, powder, or concentrate more convenient.

Once the onions look nice and brown, throw in everything but the rice. Bring it to a boil, reduce to low, and cook covered for 15 minutes. Then, add the rice, cover, cook for 15 more minutes.

At this point, the soup is done in the sense that you could choose to stop here. But, if you've got the equipment and time, there's an optional step that I think is worth it. I use a pitcher-type blender for this because it's what I've got, but I bet an immersion blender would be a lot easier and less hazardous. Next time I might try the food processor. Working about a cup and a half at a time, blend about half the soup into a puree, and add it back into the pot. It sounds easy, but blending hot soup is a fool's errand if ever I embarked upon one. Just remember: keep it small, and don't be shy about holding that lid on.

I think this soup is rich and satisfying, and I'm pretty lukewarm on lentils in general. It's reminiscent of a soup I had once in an Indian restaurant, except this one doesn't have butter and it's a lot cheaper. You can toss in a pinch of curry powder, some black pepper, cayenne, whatever you want. Oh, and a note on turmeric: as the poor man's saffron, it's definitely a lifesaver. But boy does it stain. If you're attached to your countertops, try not to set your spoon on them after you stir the pot.

*Obviously, I've listed the prices of each ingredient; yours probably won't be exactly the same, and my math might be faulty. It kind of scared me just doing this amount of division. And, I tended to round up instead of down. Just a disclaimer.

I buy my lentils, rice, and spices in bulk at the Indian-Pakistani grocery down the street. I know the guy who runs it since I like to support my local grocers, and he cuts me a deal on a samosa now and then. More importantly, his store, like many other ethnic groceries I've been to, has a great deal on imported goods like spices, beans, and grains. I buy herbs and spices there in plastic packets at about half the price of grocery store jars. Rice costs less than a dollar a pound-- for the good stuff-- and red lentils are comparable. If you're lucky enough to have one of these around, and their prices are right, I urge you to support them. It's easier than getting up at 9 on a Saturday morning to buy apples at the farmers' market for $4/lb, and you're still supporting local, independent businesses. I'm not saying you shouldn't go to the farmers' markets, but Sudivha Bazaar ain't Wal-Mart either.


Emily said...

I like it how you instruct to "heat it up your own self." I'm glad to see my cute girl's influence on your literary person (though I think to be more exact it maybe should be owns self). I can't wait to make this and see if the kiddos will eat it!

Gordon said...

Resourceful as ever. Just like Lona who went over to the farm for yet more pears for wine and jelly.

Lona said...

I always add 3 cloves when I make lentil soup ever since I tasted a hint of clove in some lentil soup that I got at a restaurant once.

Lynnis said...

I usually will only eat lentils as daal, but this sounds delicious. I think I will substitute cloves for cumin though. Also Brian can bring back dirt cheap fine saffron from the spice markets in Yemen if anyone wants him to get some. I think he'll go there in a few weeks.

Annie said...

I'll have to try it with some cloves. if you don't hate cumin though, I urge you to try it as-is. in the end you don't taste it; I think it just creates a richness, almost like a creamy or butteryness. I also think the smokiness of cumin pairs well both with the onions and the earthy lentils.

Innes said...

cumin is my FAVORITE! i have to go easy on it when i cook at pops and ganggang's though because pops hates it, too. (sometimes i sneak it in anyway...)