All I can think about right now is Mardi Gras! The parade, the music, the food, the drinks, and of course a nice holiday (only for the folk of NOLA), these are the specifics of what I miss. Unfortunately, I will not be in NOLA this year to celebrate this fantastic tradition with my friends. However, we did get a little close to eating some King Cake last Sunday for the Superbowl, my friend Tom baked a delicious Ravens/49'ers themed King Cake stuffed with chocolate at one end and sweetened pecans at the other end. Of course, a cake like that was gone in a matter of a few hours at our Superbowl party. I'll be honest, I am not a big football person and I watch the Superbowl mostly for half-time and the advertisements.Once that passes , I get a little bored but thank goodness for all the food and friendly company!
We did a Cajun themed football meal this year and I prepared a spicy Cajun crab dip and a spicy shrimp remoulade from my copy of the Brennan's cookbook. If you haven't visited Brennan's in NOLA, you should! The first NOLA parade that I was christened with, was an Irish-Italian parade where they tossed several staples of the Irish pantry to the crowd: potatoes, cabbages, and carrots. I distinctly remember my friend Wendy getting knocked over when an errant cabbage accidentally flew her way and struck her in the face. Thankfully, she was perfectly fine but it was amusing when a lady came up to her and asked if she could have the cabbage. Her response, "Why waste free vegetables!".
For the past few weeks, I have been craving warmer ingredients and flavors in my meals. Soups that are rich in legumes and lentils have a delicious earthiness to them and the addition of warming spices like cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric are so wonderful in winter. Cinnamon has a beautiful aromatic scent and when heated the aromatic oil in the bark is released and the air is filled with a sweet fragrance that is both warm and comforting. I remember an early food biochemistry lab in graduate school where we studied some of the active aromatics in ingredients such as vanilla and cinnamon. It was probably the best experience of that class, way more fun than remembering all those complicated benzene rings and other crazy concatemeric structures!
I've based my soup on an old recipe that I watched my maternal grandmother make several years ago. This soup would be made pretty much every day during the week and served as an appetizer a few hours before dinner. I remember her chopping her vegetables ever so fine on her cutting board. Nana would sear her aromatics along with a huge beef bone in hot oil and then sweat the rest of her vegetables before adding the liquid components. This soup is based on her original technique but every time I make it, I change one or another of the ingredients to give it a slight makeover. You can use any type of beans in this soup such as garbanzo, cannellini, pinto, etc. would all work great. I've been hunting for aduki beans for a while now and was thrilled to find some at the local grocery store. Black lentils are by far one of my favorite lentils to eat, so of course they made their way in here as well. To me this soup is comforting with its rich tomato, leek and onion base. After a busy day at work, there is nothing more comforting to sit down with a warm bowl of hearty soup to relax and nourish your mind and body.
What are some of your favorite soups that you find comforting?
aduki bean and black lentil soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups leeks, thinly sliced
1 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups tomatoes, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup black lentils, cleaned and rinsed
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
5 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable stock or water
1 15 ounce can of aduki beans, rinsed and drained
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon fresh flat or curly parsley leaves, chopped
shaved parmesan cheese, optional
1. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven or a stock pot with a heavy lid on a medium flame. Add the leeks and onion to the oil and cook for 5 minutes until they have softened.
2. Reduce the flame and add the turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger. Stir continuously for 1 minute.
3. Fold in the tomatoes, garlic, sugar, and lentils and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir this frequently to prevent the spices and garlic from burning.
4. Add the vinegar and stock to the pan, increase the flame and bring it to a boil. Once the contents of the pan begin to boil, reduce the flame, cover with the lid and allow the soup to simmer for 35-45 minutes until the lentils are completely cooked.
5. Stir in the aduki beans and season the soup with salt and pepper. Bring the soup again to a boil by increasing the heat and then reduce to a gentle simmer, cover with the lid and cook further for another 10 minutes.
6. Just before serving the soup, garnish with the freshly chopped parsley leaves and perhaps a little shaved Parmesan cheese.