23 November 2011

gatherings; or how black bean & lentil soup forces some creative cooking

the days continue to remain dreary and cold, with snow threatening to fall and make everything beautiful again, but refusing to do so. It's at this point that gatherings of friends, for holidays, book club, or just to stave off the chill, become a requirement. Last Friday, I had a group of my girlfriends over. It was ostensibly for Book Club, but as a dear Twitter friend informed me, we might want to change the name to "Food & Gossip Club."

We did manage a whole hour of discussion of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband {it's a play. sue us.}, along with watching the 1999 movie of the same name. It is a delightful romp and one of Wilde's more serious and personal plays, I tend to think. There is very little reason, though lots of rhyme to our book selections: somehow the new choice has a tie to the old choice. Our last book from the gathering in September, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, involved a character who had exchanged letters with Mister Wilde. Between the gossip and wine and my dissertation on Montreal, it was a great Friday night.

Amusingly, I think we wind each other up when in comes to the food for gatherings, planned or otherwise. Many of my friends, their husbands & boyfriends included, are rather interested in food. Some of us throw things together, some follow recipes exactly, but we all end up showing up with a plate or have delightful aromas bubbling out of our homes as the others arrive. I like the challenge of knowing that I need to come up with something new and different, than my friends like to try interesting foods. It both gives me an excuse and forces me to be more creative.

Despite my current love for traditional sweaters and classic looks, that sort of creativity also spills over into some of my clothes as well. Who doesn't love the idea of layering heavily when it's cold? Throw in a tweed blazer, a fur vest, and some fringed black boots & I've done classic and interesting all in one fell swoop. That's what this soup feels like: a classic vegetarian style soup with plenty of things that are good for you, plus layers of smoky warm flavors and a tiny kick in the pants from green onions and chili powder.

Black Bean & Lentil Soup (enough to feed 6 to 10 as a meal, more if smaller portions)
1 pound (2 cups) dried black beans
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 bell pepper, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup cumin
3 teaspoons chili powder
1 cup red wine
1 can tomato sauce or soup (I used homemade roasted tomato & red pepper soup)
1 large can whole peeled tomatoes, with the tomatoes chopped
water or beef or chicken broth
8 ounces (weight) portabella mushrooms, minced
2 bay leaves
2/3 cup dried lentils
kosher salt

Soak the beans in enough water to cover them overnight.
In a large (rather large) pot, heat the oil, then add the minced onion and about a tablespoon of salt. Allow to soften, then add the minced pepper and garlic, adding the cumin and chili powder once they also have begun to soften. It seems like quite a lot of cumin, but you may have to add more near the end of cooking, as the beans will soak up quite a lot of flavor. Once those vegetables have begun to caramelize and stick to the bottom of the pot, add the red wine and tomato soup.
After that has come to a boil, add the chopped canned tomatoes and their juice. Next add the mushrooms, then the drained soaked beans. Cover with enough water or broth to make a somewhat watery soup consistency. Add the bay leaves and cracked black pepper. Cover the soup and allow it to simmer for an hour or two (dried beans are funny, sometimes they cook quickly, others slowly, but with this soup it is difficult to overcook them).
About a half hour before you'd like to serve, add the lentils. In this time, you may need to add more liquid, depending on how brothy you like your soup and how much the beans have soaked up. Cook the lentils in the soup for 15 to 30 minutes, then serve. I like a dollop of sour cream and some chopped green onions on top, but they are optional. Do make sure that you do not serve (or that you remove) the bay leaves.

"Be well. Do good work. Keep in touch." - Garrison Keillor

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