Cooking day

I know it has been almost a month since my last post. I have been travelling to Dallas and I am finally back home. This past week I drove my sister and her cat to Florida. It was a long drive and I must admit, I had the worst food I have had in years, McDonalds, Subway and hotel food. I don’t know how people eat that kind of food all the time. Upon my return, I just wanted some home cooked meals!

My mother was gracious enough to have some comfort food ready for us on Saturday, Albanian Spinach Pie and Sauerkraut Pie. They are family recipes (and by no means low fat!). I don’t think the Sauerkraut Pie is Albanian. My grandmother’s mother was Serbian. I think she must have learned that recipe from her mother.

Today was my day to cook. I have been craving my favorite Lentil Soup, so that was my choice today. I also found some organic artichokes at WholeFoods 5 for 5 dollars which in Florida is an incredible bargain. I doubled up the work and made Provencal Artichoke Ragout, another favorite of mine. It is on the stove as I am writing.

The artichoke recipe is from one of my favorite cookbook authors, Martha Rose Shulman (I have mentioned her in earlier posts). Here is the link to the recipe on her blog, http://www.martha-rose-shulman.com/recipes/art_ragout.html .

I love lentils. You either love them or you hate them or you may love them but they don’t agree with you! In any case, lentils are a great source of plant based protein. Combined with rice or other grain it becomes a complete protein. They are also one of the best vegetable sources of iron.

Lentils have been around for a long time. They are one of the earliest cultivated legumes with archeological evidence of their cultivation as early as 6000 B.C. Lentils were mentioned in the Bible, Genesis 25: 30-34, Esau gave up his birthright for a dish of lentils (he must have been on the I love lentils team!) and a loaf of bread.

Ancient Greeks used lentils for making soup and bread. Hippocrates, the father of medicine prescribed lentils to his patients with liver ailments. In India, lentils were introduced before 100 AD and they are strongly imbedded in their culture. Lentils were introduced in the US during the early 1900’s. In North America, lentils are cultivated in eastern Washington, northern Idaho and Canada.

I am not sure where I got this lentil soup recipe. I cut it out of a magazine and have used it for years. I have seen it on some online blogs, but they have not printed their source.

What I have changed from the original recipe is that I normally add more water or tomato sauce (the lentils soak up the broth) and I include a Persian dried lemon while it is simmering then squeeze the juice into the broth and remove the lemon. I also serve the soup garnished with a some good Greek Feta cheese. I highly recommend you try making the soup with the dried lemon. It adds a unique lemon flavor that is delicious. If you don’t want to search out the dried lemons (you can find them at Mediterranean stores or on line at, http://parthenonfoods.com/dried-lemons-approx-025lb-p-1322.html) you can substitute adding some lemon juice before serving, but it is not the same.

I am going to post the entire recipe but I only make ½ a recipe normally. That makes about 4 bowls of soup (lady size).

Lentil and Spaghetti Soup with Tomatoes and Garlic

½ pound dried lentils (1 ¼ cups) rinsed and picked through

1 large onion minced

1 large carrot, cut into small dice

2 medium celery stalks, cut into small dice

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 ½ cups canned tomatoes in puree, chopped coarse (can use diced canned tomatoes or fresh diced tomatoes with some tomato sauce)

1 Persian dried lemon (optional)

6 tablespoons olive oil

4 ounces spaghetti, broken into 2 inch lengths

Salt and ground black pepper

¼ lb top quality Greek feta cheese, crumbled

Sauté onion, carrot, celery and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until onion is translucent. Add lentils tomatoes and dried lemon if using. Cover and simmer until lentils are tender about one hour. Squeeze the lemon to release the juice and remove it.

Add spaghetti and salt; partially cover and simmer until spaghetti is just tender, about 12 minutes. Season with pepper and additional salt to taste.

To serve:

Ladle soup into warm soup bowls. Drizzle each bowl with 1 tsp olive oil and top with 1 tablespoon crumbled feta. Serve immediately. This is good with a slice of toasted rosemary bread.