There are some dishes I can just count on. I know that Aunt Bev will be serving Brussels sprouts with leeks at her Thanksgiving in a few weeks. I know my mother-in-law will be rolling out chocolate peanut butter balls for the annual Carroll Christmas party. And I know that my mother will be serving red lentil stew this Shabbat.
Let me explain this last one, because, well, it needs a little explaining: The Torah is divided into 54 portions, and every week, in synagogues around the world, we read the weekly portion, or parsha. Right now we’re in the Book of Genesis, and this week’s parsha, Toldot, tells the story of the twins Jacob and Esau. More specifically, we’ll be reading about the sneaky trade Jacob made with his brother, Esau the Hunter: a bowl of red lentil stew for Esau’s birthright. It’s a really great story, in a really terrific book of Torah, so my mom always serves a red lentil stew in honor of the portion.
(If this sort of thing interests you, definitely check out my friend Elisha’s blog where she cooks up dishes inspired by the weekly portion. Red lentil stew is just the beginning for her. Think agua fresca for last week’s parsha where some matchmaking is done by a well, or squash lattice baskets for the parsha where baby Moses is sent down the Nile. Just great stuff.)
I’ve been meaning to post a red lentil stew for this week for three years running, and to make sure it would happen in time for you to cook it for Shabbat this year, I actually took photos of this dish when I made it last winter, when Rich’s friend Brian came for Shabbat dinner. The soup was great, and aren’t those flowers that Brian brought me amazing?
This soup is a Mollie Katzen recipe, so you know it’s a good one. Although the dried fruit might sound a little odd, it’s really wonderful.
Lentil Soup with a Hint of Fruit Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven
Preparation time: 45 minutes (10 minutes of work)
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
2 cups red or brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
8 cups water (maybe more)
2 cups minced onion
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup minced dried apricots
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
3 to 4 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or, to taste)
Black pepper and cayenne to taste
Extra slivers of dried apricot
A drizzle of yogurt
A sprig or two of cilantro or parsley
Place the lentils and water in a soup pot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat to a simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the onion, cumin, and mustard, and continue to simmer, covered, until the lentils are very soft (about 15 more minutes). Add small amounts of additional water, if it seems too thick.
Add the garlic, apricots, and salt, cover, and let sit for another 15 minutes or so. Stir in the vinegar, black pepper, and cayenne to taste (and correct the salt too, if necessary). At this point the soup will keep for several days.
Heat gently just before serving, and serve hot, topped with a few slivers of dried apricot, a drizzle of yogurt, and a sprig of cilantro or parsley, if desired.