As we head into the heart of winter, I’m reminded of the warm, comforting smells and tastes of my family’s lentil soup. I can still see myself as a kid in our family’s Jersey apartment; walking into the kitchen and perking up to the smell of the lentil & vegetable medley steaming on the stove. More like a stew than a soup, mom’s lentils were thick, hearty, and filling – the perfect remedy to a case of an empty stomach after coming home from school. Sometimes mixed with fluffy rice or tubular pasta, or just eaten on their own, lentils were appreciated as bowlfuls of comfort.
Lentils are a humble food. A kitchen staple in many countries throughout the world where people do not have access to meat, lentils are a way to get essential nutrients: fiber, potassium, and iron. For my family, it was the caviar of our day. As kids, we didn’t know the main reasons lentils graced our table was because they were affordable and could be stretched. We just knew that they were delicious and warmed our bodies from the inside out when the cold weather came.Lentils also date back to biblical times, and make several appearances in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Genesis, Esau sells his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. Perhaps deceived by Jacob, or driven by the desire for the delicious stew, Esau’s hunger for lentils hints at the timeless deliciousness of the staple food. Now, several recipes called “Esau’s lentil soup” or “Potage Esau” can be found in tribute to the passage. Used in a myriad of nations, lentils have significant cultural and social relevance. In Jewish culture, lentils, like eggs, are considered food for mourners because they are round and symbolize the circle of life. In Italy, lentils are served on New Year’s Eve, as they represent the hope for a prosperous year with their coin-like shape. In India, sprouted lentils are often used as an offering to God in many temples.
It’s good when food can take you to another place, whether imagining yourself in biblical times or remembering the warmth of a childhood meal. For me, it’s the happiness, safety and security of being surrounded by family. Whenever I make lentils, I’m reminded of a time when my family didn’t have much, but had the love of each other. Today, whenever I visit my mother in Jersey, she still makes lentils in anticipation of my visit, and we sit around the table sharing our soup like we did as a family so many years ago.
Lentils are a humble food. A kitchen staple in many countries throughout the world where people do not have access to meat, lentils are a way to get essential nutrients: fiber, potassium, and iron. For my family, it was the caviar of our day. As kids, we didn’t know the main reasons lentils graced our table was because they were affordable and could be stretched.
- 1 cup dry lentils
- 1 8 oz can of tomato sauce
- 2 medium-sized celery sticks
- 2 medium-sized carrots
- 1 small onion
- Clean and dice the celery, carrots and onions. Set aside.
- Fill a 3 quart sauce pan with cold water and add lentils. Bring to a boil and boil for five minutes. Remove the lentils from the stove, run cold water into the pot, and drain the lentils. Place the lentils back in the pot and fill with water. Add tomato sauce, celery, carrots, onions, 1 tsp of salt (or to taste), ¼ tsp pepper, 1 tsp oregano and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for one hour. Add water or chicken broth if it begins to dry out. Soup is ready when lentils are tender.
- You can also add cooked rice or pasta to give the soup some body. Drizzle olive oil over the soup before serving. Serve with crusty Italian bread and red wine.