I’m the kind of person who worries before going to dinner at someone else’s house if there’s going to be enough for me to eat. There’s no danger, by the way, of me wasting away. It’s just that I’m mostly vegetarian and also really picky so if I have to make a meal of certain things that I “can” eat, like cubes of cheese (often served perilously close to the pepperoni) and raw broccoli in French onion dip, I know I’ll come home with an upset stomach and a grumpy attitude.
I don’t want to be a bad guest, either, and make the host to feel obliged to create some kind of tofu-based entrée or notice after dinner that I’m sneaking tortilla chips because I’m still hungry.
The solution to my guest issue turns out to be really simple: strategic meal contribution. I bring a hearty vegetarian main dish (or one that I will enjoy eating as a main dish) with enough protein that I don’t have to gorge myself on dairy products and snacks. Most American meals contain a meat centerpiece and then sides of starches and vegetables. Many of these sides, as well as appetizers and desserts, are vegetarian. So I bring a crowd-pleaser like a cauldron of lentil soup and that dish plus sides equals complete dinner happiness for me and no stress for the host.
Bringing a soup also means that I don’t have to wonder if the cook knows that meat stock makes it not-vegetarian. Some people, around here anyway, think that vegetarian means “contains vegetables” or “doesn’t have meat chunks in it”, or “has chicken instead of red meat.” Once, standing around in the cold at a ski race, I ordered a steaming cup of homemade lentil soup that I was assured was vegetarian. It had a distinctly meaty flavor and my second spoonful contained something meat-textured. I handed the cup off to my husband who does eat meat. “Mmmm! Meaty!” he said, and finished it for me while my stomach rumbled.
The following lentil soup is easy and surprises meat-eaters who think that vegetarian food is less flavorful or satisfying than meatetarian versions. It’s actually vegan, but if you don’t tell anyone, they’ll never miss the animal products.
Rachel’s Super-Flexible Lentil Soup
I’ve made this soup with all sorts of different proportions—twice as much vegetables and tomatoes, different spice ratios, more stock—and it always comes out good.
- 2 TBS olive oil
- 1 heaping cup onions, chopped (one onion)
- ½ cup carrots, chopped
- ½ cup celery, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 heaping cup chopped fresh tomatoes or 1 can (15 ounces) whole tomatoes, chopped
- 2 cups (1 pound) brown or green lentils
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 quarts vegetable stock
- ¼ tsp ground cumin
- ¼ tsp ground coriander
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 bunch (½ lb) fresh kale, stemmed and chopped (optional)
- 1 TBS cider vinegar
- In a large soup pot, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery and salt and cook until vegetables are tender and onions are translucent, stirring often for about 5-7 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook until the garlic is yellow and fragrant, approximately 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Mix in the tomatoes and bring to a low boil. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the lentils, bay leaf, stock, cumin, and coriander. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and cover loosely. Allow the soup to simmer for an hour, stirring every once in a while, and adding water if it seems too thick. (If you are using kale, add it after 45 minutes to give it about 15-20 minutes of simmering.)
- Add chopped rosemary and cider vinegar. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Simmer for an additional five minutes.
- You can serve it as is or for a thicker, smoother soup (as pictured above): remove the pot from the heat and partially puree the soup with an immersion blender. (Be sure to keep blade portion fully immersed.) Leave some of the lentils and vegetables intact for texture. Stir. Bring soup back to temperature on the burner.
- You can keep the soup warm on the stove (or in a big crock pot) and serve whenever guests are ready for it. You may need to add water or stock. Leftovers will definitely need additional water or stock, even if you’re a fan of extremely thick soup.