After a weekend at the chilly farm, it seemed like a good time to make soup. Seemed. Actually, the night [err, last night] I made this soup was an exceptionally warm night for late October and by the time it was ready I was so hot from standing over the stove that the last thing I wanted to eat was steaming hot soup.
But I did anyway. I did it because once I've committed to a recipe, I have to make it. And when you're on a schedule like mine, you have to get to the kitchen while there's time because before you know it, that time has passed and you're still without soup. You understand.
But really, it's a book I want to tell you about. The Essential New York Times Cookbook, actually. I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy of the cookbook, a copy that I forgot was coming until I picked up the package on the front door step and nearly tore my arm out of socket under the sheer weight of it. It weighs four and a half pounds - a weight that I think is justified considering it contains the best recipes from the NY Times from 1850 until now. Really, four and a half pounds is nothing when you're covering over a century.
This book is an absolute treasure. There are no pictures and for the first time in my obsession with glossy-paged, technicolor cookbooks, I didn't care. Page after page after page of interesting, classic, popular and timeless recipes fill this book and I skimmed every single one. You know, for you, to give an accurate report, not because I'm already obsessed with it or anything. There are so many things I want to try - a new twist on hot chocolate with melted chocolate and cocoa powder; the Zuni Cafe Roasted Chicken and Bread Salad that I've seen bouncing all around the Internet but have never tried; whimsical dishes like Browned Butter Rice Crispy Treats and classic throwbacks like Rum Balls and Green Goddess salad dressing. There is no shortage of ideas here - and even though some of the dishes might make you raise an eyebrow [particularly those from before 1900, I don't think I could ever get on board with aspics], it's fascinating to examine ingredients and recipes and lifestyles from back in the day.
Amanda Hesser, the author and a longtime food writer at the Times, organizes the recipe according to date with notes containing menu suggestions and quips about the original recipes which is especially helpful for those of us who are spastic about planning dinner menus and always ending up serving roasted chicken and potatoes. [Cough, me, cough.]
This soup was not an easy pick to start off the book. I considered making the most requested recipe from the NY Times, Purple Plum Torte, but I didn't have the proper size pan for it....yet. I bookmarked recipes for Teddie's Apple Cake and half a dozen pasta recipes, but this soup came out of practicality - I had all the ingredients for it in my kitchen already. I'm a simple woman. It's a recipe from Melissa Clark, a lightly pureed lentil soup spiked with a pinch of cayenne pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, drizzled with a slick of cooling olive oil over the top just before serving, it's perfect for a quick and light dinner on an October weeknight...even if it is 75 degrees outside.
I can't wait to continue working through this book - it's certainly going in my Married Life Arsenal of Things to Cook. Justin - you're welcome.
Red Lentil Soup with Lemon
Adapted from The Essential New York Times Cookbook
3 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of ground chili powder or cayenne, more to taste
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.
Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder or cayenne, and sauté for 2 minutes longer.
Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.
Using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor, purée half the soup then add it back to pot. Soup should be somewhat chunky.
Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in lemon juice and cilantro. Serve soup drizzled with good olive oil and dusted lightly with chili powder if desired.