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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

red lentil soup with yellow squash (or zucchini)

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Becky the babysitter

Dan and I sell our Rise & Shine Bakery bread at the farmers market most Saturdays from 9am until 2pm. Becky is the wonderful babysitter who spends most Saturday mornings playing with Meredith. (Her last name will remain a secret, just in case you other South Anchorage parents might be looking for a fabulous babysitter—I try to reserve all Becky’s spare time that she’s not camping, playing volleyball, doing her homework, or training for cross-country skiing). I never know what Meredith will come home with after a morning with Becky: a plate of brownies covered in sprinkles and cut into fanciful shapes, a ziploc bag of orange homemade play-dough, a row of vessels filled with evil-smelling “concoctions” brewed from kitchen spices and food coloring, or a sheaf of drawings, paintings, and cutouts. Meredith ADORES Becky. And of course, so do we.

But in truth, it’s not just Becky who babysits Meredith—sometimes, it’s her whole family! When I drop Meredith off in the morning, Becky’s almost always there, but sometimes Dan will pick her up at noon from Becky’s dad, Mike, who has helped her make a cool sailboat sculpture out of wood scraps, festooned with skulls and crossbones. Other times, Becky’s older sister, Emily, has lent a hand when home from college, famously taking Meredith biking around the South High School track. And Becky’s mom, Alice, has helped in more ways than I can count—first of all, by being a fantastic parent. (In fact, she is a parent coach, and Dan and I took several sessions with her in the fall of 2009, improving our family life immeasurably during a rough patch.) Alice has raised her daughters with the knowledge of how to capture the imagination and enthusiasm of a child. Sometimes Alice takes over when Becky has an appointment or activity for part of the morning. And once, a couple of weeks ago, when Becky, Emily and Mike were gone on a boating expedition to Whittier, Alice took Meredith on her own and went to the zoo! (She volunteered for this, on a weekend that was otherwise her own!)

We are so grateful to have such a family in our lives! Thank you, all four, from the bottom of our hearts!

I love to make this soup now, when the yellow summer squash comes out at the market, because the yellow squash maintains its integrity a bit more than the green. But it’s delicious with zucchini, and even other veggies (see note, below). 

red lentil soup with yellow summer squash (or zucchini)

This is a really fun, really yummy dish with nice Indian flavors, and it’s relatively simple. This recipe is pretty much straight out of Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian, except I’ve added a lot less oil. Even if I only have enough squash to make a single batch, I always make a double or triple batch and freeze some of it before adding the squash. Then I can add whatever vegetable I like to the soup later, when I thaw it out. Don’t limit yourself to making this dish with squash. I’ve served it with broccoli (a big pile of garlic-roasted broccoli in the center of a dish of this soup is especially lovely, not to mention delicious), and it’s wonderful! You could use any kind of vegetable you like in place of the zucchini; just pre-cook it and add it at the last minute before serving, in the middle of a lake of lentils in a bowl.

You can serve it with rice, but I love it just on its own. If you wanted to get really fancy, you could make a simple Indian raita (yogurt, garlic & salt) to serve with it. But really, it’s good enough to just eat by itself.

2 cups red lentils, washed and drained
½ teaspoon turmeric
sea salt or kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
a pinch of cardamom seeds, pounded just to break them up a bit (or use ground cardamom, but don’t add it until you add the onion to the skillet)
1 (3”) cinnamon stick
4 bay leaves
1 ½ teaspoons whole cumin seeds
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 teaspoons peeled fresh ginger root, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 medium yellow summer squash or zucchinis, cut into bite-sized chunks (3/4” squares)
freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or more, if you like things spicy)
a few squeezes of fresh lime juice (optional)

1. Put the lentils and 4 cups of water in a heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. When it boils, remove the foam that rises to the top. Add the turmeric and stir it in. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and cook very gently for 20 to 30 minutes until the lentils are tender and have dissolved into a puree. If it’s not soupy enough for your taste, add more water. Add 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and stir to combine.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium high heat in a nonstick frying pan. When very hot, add the cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, and whole cumin seeds. Stir for a few seconds and then add the onion and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir and fry until the onions are golden brown.
3. Add the ginger and garlic, and stir and fry for another minute. Then add the zucchini, black pepper to taste, and cayenne. Stir for a minute and add 1 cup of water, cover, turn the heat down and cook for 2 minutes, or until the zucchini is beginning to be tender. Add the contents of the frying pan to the lentils. Stir gently to combine and cook on low heat for a minute or two until the zucchini is cooked to your liking.
4. Season with salt to taste. Squeeze lime juice over the top just before serving, if you happen to have a lime on hand, and you remember to do it. I usually forget, but it is a nice touch.


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