Lentil Soup & Corn Salad . . .

It’s been a bean-kinda month. That’s not a bad thing. I like beans and vegetables generally. Leafy greens don’t agree with my constitution but I love most other vegetables. This new level of frugality coincided with Lent. Maybe there’s a rhythm to life’s ups and downs. Whatever the reason for this cycle, I’m happy about the adjustment. Everything that comes is a gift!

I’ve been eating lots of beans, soup, and non-lettuce salads–just because those are the ingredients I have in the closet or freezer. My favorite salad is Corn Salad–frozen shoe-peg corn and diced garlic, cucumber, green or red pepper, cucumber, tomato, and black beans. The dressing is vinegar, olive oil, and dark mustard. The vinegar to oil ratio is 2 to 1–the opposite of most dressings. It usually lasts the whole week. I take a small container to work every day for lunch. The marinated flavors are wonderful, and there’s plenty of crunch.

My favorite soups are Italian Wedding, Lentil, Cream of Mushroom, Hot & Sour, Chicken Noodle, Bean, Chili, and Seafood anything. The chili is more like a stew. I like to make them myself. Canned soups are nasty, and even restaurant soups leave a lot to be desired. The favorite short-cut of most diner cooks in the US is using corn starch instead of milk or cream for the creamed soups. There’s nothing like a belly full of corn starch to kill an appetite.

In this area, Italian Wedding (aka Holiday) soup has a hundred variations. The basic recipe is chicken stock, tiny meat balls, escarole, Italian cheese, and pasta, (sometimes egg droppings). At home, my aunts made it without pasta, and it was wonderfully light. I loved the broth, tiny meatballs and escarole. When my younger sister started to make it, she added everything but the kitchen sink–chicken, pasta, carrots, onions, spinach (as if the escarole weren’t enough), and anything thing else she felt like adding. And she fried the meatballs until they were dark and hard. But surprisingly, it was good too!

Folks in Amish country use sausage instead of meat balls, quadruple the pasta until the entire concoction looks like a floating mass of noodles, and frequently they leave out the escarole completely. My cousins’ mother did that. She never used escarole, and quadrupled the homemade dumplings, so her soup ended up looking like a pot of paste, with pieces of chicken instead of meat balls. Her kids have held onto that recipe, so I always skip the soup (and their version of stuffing) when I’m there for holiday dinners. I love them dearly but that soup is too much of a gastronomic challenge.

My favorite “beans” are lentils. I like them as a salad, with olive oil and wine vinegar, and as soup. Lentil soup is thick too, but not from corn starch or flour. When you heat it, it liquifies, and always has a wonderful flavor–from the garlic, onions, carrots, and celery. Sometimes I add a ham bone or kielbasa for a smoky flavor.

Homemade soups and salads are wonderful. They’re cheap, usually healthy, and always flavorful. It’s tough to find that quality consistently in any restaurant, especially on a hermit’s budget.

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