Recession Meals: Lentil and Chickpea Soup with Indian Spices

Given the ongoing collapse of the American financial system this week, I’m starting a new series named Recession Meals here at the Best Food Blog Ever.  I’m even going to tag the recipes with ‘recession’ so that you can find them easily.  The goal of Recession Meals is to get food on the table without spending a lot of money – which should be an everyday goal anyway in the absence of a bad economy, but which is a virtual necessity now.

I try to do a major supermarket shopping trip once every other week.  Sometimes, though, this means that we run out of meat a few days before I’d want to go to the supermarket again.  I could break down and just go to the store, but it’s an interesting challenge to stick to my grocery schedule and try to stick it out for a couple of days.  I think the financial experts call this ‘budgeting’.

Take a look at any of your supermarket receipts and you’ll find that meat is the most expensive item on your list.  If you reduce your reliance on meat and focus on replacing it with beans, tofu, or some other protein, you can make a serious impact on your food bill and possibly discover new things about yourself, like the fact that you like beans.

I saw this soup for sale in my supermarket’s Sunday flyer and figured I had the stuff to make it myself.  It is a very filling, autumn-perfect meal that is very inexpensive because the bulk of it is composed of beans – lentils and a can of chickpeas that I found in the cupboard.  You could literally make this recipe with water instead of chicken stock and it would be just as good.  I had some frozen sausages, so I sliced a couple and put them in, but they are completely optional.

Moving to soups and beans is great for your personal economy, because they are cheap nutrition and the ingredients can be used for multiple meals.  For the Recession Meals, I am including information about the costs of each ingredient.  These are based on my local prices, so your mileage may vary.

Lentil and Chickpea Soup with Indian Spices

Olive oil [about 3 bucks for a small bottle]

1.5 Cups lentils (firmer is better, but any will do) [a 1lb bag is about a dollar]

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed thoroughly [about 89 cents a can or less]

1 onion, peeled and chopped [5 pounds for three bucks]

2 carrots, peeled and chopped [3 pounds for a buck or two]

2 stalks of celery, peeled and chopped [$1.79 for a bunch]

3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped [about a dollar for a head or less]

1 Tbs garam masala [a spice blend consisting of cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom] [about $3 to $4 for a jar], or other spices as you wish (thyme, curry powder, etc.)

8 cups of water [free!] or chicken stock [about $3 for a large can]

Rinse the lentils and set aside.

In a large pot (remember, you are adding 8 cups of water here, and also remember Archimedes’ Principle), heat about 2 Tbs of olive oil until shiny, add the garlic and stir until golden.  Add the chopped onions and stir to combine.

Once the onions have softened and browned a bit, add the carrots and celery.   Food science – since celery is mostly water, if you add it at the same time as the onions, the onions will never brown since the water given off by the celery will steam everything up.

Saute the vegetables over medium heat for about ten minutes.  Add the lentils and chickpeas and stir to coat with oil (add a little more oil if need be).

Pour 8 cups of water or stock into the pot and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to a gentle boil and go do something else for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, add the garam masala (or your choice of spices), stir, taste for salt (it will probably need 1 to 2 tsp), and cover the pot.  Continue to cook for another 25 minutes.

Use a fork and fish out some lentils and check for tenderness.  When the lentils are tender, the soup is ready to serve.

October 2, 2008   Comments

The Dry Run – Asparagus Soup with Mushroom Custard

After deciding that I wanted to serve a soup course, I went through a number of my cookbooks with the general theme of “Spring” in mind. Whatever recipe I ended up with, I wanted it to be a celebration of spring and something light to usher in the evening. I gravitated towards green soups, so peas and spinach and a number of other vegetable soups were considered. In the end, I decided on this recipe for asparagus soup that appears in Tom Colicchio’s book Think Like a Chef.

The prospect of combining two hallmarks of spring, asparagus and mushrooms, appealed to me, and the soup is very straightforward, which would allow me the time to get on with preparing the rest of the meal. The custard seemed to be a nice touch, as it’s something that you don’t see in home cooking too often, but it seemed easy enough to do.

When we went shopping for ingredients, I noticed that 1) I don’t have access to fresh morels, and 2) dried morels are super expensive (around $8.99 for two ounces). I settled on shittake mushrooms instead, which were available fresh – if you were to make this dish, you could probably substitute any mix of mushrooms that are available to you and discover new combinations fairly easily. Also, Colicchio’s original recipe calls for ramps, which are wild onions, and which also weren’t available, so I substituted scallions instead. That’s the great thing about soup – you can always play around with the ingredients quite a bit and still come out looking good.

I won’t list the straight recipe here, since you can find it in the cookbook (and also you can just Google it), but you take 2.5 pounds (or so) of asparagus, chop them in half, and simmer the chopped stems in 2.25 C chicken stock, and reserve the chopped upper halves (the part with the pointy bits). As the stock simmers, gathering asparagus flavor from the stems, you saute the chopped upper halves with some shallot, salt, pepper, and ramps or scallions. Strain the stock, throw away the stems, and pour the stock into your sauteed mix, simmering for five minutes more. Dump the whole thing into a blender and puree. Soup’s done, unless you’re a stickler for running it through a sieve.

As for the custard, set aside about 45 minutes for it. Chop up the mushrooms (1/4 pound), and saute them (along with some scallion or ramps) in a little bit of oil for about five minutes. Throw in a cup of heavy cream, bring to a simmer, turn off the heat, and let that mushroomy goodness steep throughout the cream for ten minutes, fifteen minutes, or whenever you get around to it again. Strain the mix (keep the mushrooms, keep the cream), let the cream cool a little, and then whisk in one egg + one yolk. Divide among eight three ounce ramekins (buttered or spritzed with Pam), stir a little of your mushroom mush into each, and bake in a water bath at 325 degrees for 25 minutes. When they are done, take them out and let them cool on the counter a bit.

When you are ready to assemble, run a knife around the edge of each custard and invert into your serving bowl. If your butter/Pam karma is good, they should just plop out. If not, you may be screwed.

Ladle a little bit of the hot soup around the custard, tilting the bowl to fill in any spaces, and serve. Well, taste for salt first (it will probably need some), and then serve.

April 26, 2008   Comments