Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cooking the Books

In late August, there was a huge book fair near my apartment. Given my budgetary constraints, I skipped the first 6 days of the book fair and went only to the final day -- the day that all the leftover books (there must have been hundreds of thousands; I'm not exaggerating) were $1. Naturally, I went wild, but my most important purchase is a giant Drake's International Recipe Cookbook. It's just great. It organizes the recipes by type of food (e.g. appetizers, soups, fish, poultry) and within those categories, by region or type of cuisine. It even features recipes as obtuse as devils on horseback, and .... In fact, I even found my favorite tapas dish that I discovered when I studied abroad in Spain. That's how I know it's legit.

Anyways, I'm slowly working my way through my new treasure, because I know very little about food from Scandinavia, for example. And I know I have a lot to learn.

So there's your backstory. It resulted in me picking out this Mediterranean lentil soup to try my hand at Middle Eastern cuisine. My book features three types of lentil soups--from England, Ireland, and the Middle East. I love lentil soup, but my favorite is the one I had at this small Lebanese restaurant near my mom's house, so I figured it was worth a try.

I was very happy with the result, especially the day after (when the flavors seemed to meld together more). However, I left off the bay leaves, because I didn't want to buy them. Next time, I'd invest in some for added flavor. I'd also use more salt, and a chicken buillon to flavor the water. 

Also, I might consider taking some of the tips from this recipe--which I found later--like adding balsamic vinegar and canned tomatoes.



1 lb lentils ($1.99)
2 onions, I recommend yellow although I used 1 red, 1 yellow ($0.80)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed ($1)
1 stalk of celery ($0.50)
1 carrot, grated ($0.50)
4 teaspoons chicken buillon - although I'd use more next time ($3.29)
2 lemons ($0.80) - the recipe called for vinegar, which I subbed the lemons for. If you're trying to make a more traditional recipe, or you have vinegar but no lemons lying around, use .... of vinegar)
Olive oil, salt, and pepper
2 bay leaves (I didn't use them due to cost, but I recommend it)

The Grand Total: $8.88 for 8 servings, or $1.11 per serving


Rinse and strain your lentils. Crush your garlic, chop your celery and onions, and grate your carrot. Pour about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan. Turn the heat to medium, and add the garlic, celery and onions. Let them sautee for about 7 minutes, or until the onions are translucent but not burnt.

Bring 10 cups of water to a boil (I used an electric water heater). Mix in the chicken buillon. Add the lentils, the carrot, and water/stock to the saucepan. Add salt, bay leaves and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down. Allow the pot to simmer for 45-50 minutes, or until the lentils are soft but not mushy. Before serving, squeeze about 1/4 of a lemon into each bowl.

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