Lately I’ve had a lot of deadlines, which means I’ve been giving myself a lot of leeway in the “eating like a functional adult human” department. I have this tendency, when I’m stressed out by work, to let everything else – cooking, sleeping, making my hair look nice, fulfilling other basic obligations – go by the wayside. During these trying times you can usually find me in my bed with my laptop and my cat, wearing my kimono, and eating takeout pad thai.
I recently realized, in the throes of my work-induced fever, that I might not be able to get away with this behavior forever. First of all, it is not good for one’s waistline. Neither is it good for one’s reputation as a housekeeper: One day, while working away at the living room table, a new neighbor knocked on the door to introduce himself. (Actually, his true motive was to passive aggressively accuse me of messing with — specifically tying together the laces of — his shoes, which he leaves outside in the hallway, which, ummm no dude.) I opened the door sheepishly, aware that my apartment was embarrassingly unkempt. My dining room table was littered with the remains of my takeout dinner and three empty Sodastream bottles, and the bed was unmade. Shoes and jackets had been flung about the apartment with abandon. The kitchen might not have looked so bad, had there not been handful of dirty dishes chilling on the countertops. As I was apologizing for the mess in my apartment, and as my cat was rubbing up against this person’s leg, he casually referred to himself as a germophobe(!). Whoops! Way to shame me, dude. I did give myself credit for the fact that I was at least dressed in the clothes of someone who might leave the house at some point, which was truly a fluke. Then I decided maybe I should work on better compartmentalizing my work/non-work lifestyle habits so as to keep up appearances a little better.
First I cleaned up the house. Then I made a grocery list complete with some of my favored “health-conscious” snack and lunch foods: Green vegetables; sun butter; nuts; quinoa; chocolate cream-top yogurt — because it’s better than eating a candy bar! I think! — and the ingredients for my red lentil soup.
This red lentil soup is a longtime staple of mine, and it serves as an essential gateway recipe for getting back into cooking after bouts of laziness. For one thing, it’s very, very easy to make; all you have to do is, like, chop an onion and some garlic and throw some stuff into a pot. It’s also delicious and light. It sends your body the message that, look, I have not given up on you entirely – see? kale! – so please hold off on the obesity, the type 2 diabetes, and the heart attack. Did I mention there is sausage in this soup? Well, if you are feeling conscientious, you can leave that part out; it’s still great.
MODERATELY HEALTHY LENTIL SAUSAGE SOUP
You will need:
An immersion blender or food processor
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika
½ tsp salt, and more to taste
½ tsp pepper, and more to taste
1 1/4 cup red lentils, rinsed
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
3 cups water
2 sweet Italian sausages, chopped into small, bite-sized pieces
2 cups kale, center ribs removed, roughly chopped
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a big pot on medium-high heat. Sautee the onions and garlic, until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the bay leaves, cumin, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, salt and pepper, and stir constantly for another minute. Add the lentils, chicken stock, and water. Lower the heat to medium and let simmer, partially covered, for 30-40 minutes, until the lentils are soft and falling apart.
In a separate skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the rest (1/2 teaspoon) of the smoked paprika. Stir the paprika into the olive oil. Now add the sausage. Stir for 5-7 minutes, until it’s cooked through, crispy, and reddish from the paprika-olive oil combination. Add the kale and stir for 1-2 minutes, until wilted. Remove from heat.
Once your lentils are soft and ready to eat, remove from heat and use your immersion blender – this is my favorite appliance of al time, so worth investing in – to, you know, blend the soup. Stir in the kale and sausage. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls and squeeze a little lemon atop each serving.
Welcome back to the realm of productive and healthy human living. Doesn’t it feel good?