The other morning I woke to the thin sheen of the season’s first frost glazing the leaves of my kitchen herbs which grow in mismatched, hand-me-down pots and buckets on my front steps. But it’s only August, I hear you say. Indeed. But here in the heart of the Rockies, where my little nook in the community garden sits at an elevation of roughly 9,000 feet (that’s about 2,700 meters you crazy metric users, you), winter overstays her welcome like a bad house guest, with frosts lasting until mid-June and arriving again in August. Her tenacity means, of course, that our growing season is about 60 days in total – just enough to manage a few heads of lettuce, some radishes and a handful of frost-hardy roots and greens like turnips and collards. It’ll get hot again, yes, as summer and winter fight for dominance in the waning warmth of autumn, but the frosts have most decidedly arrived. And I’ve heard tale that even a few aspens are shedding their green for gold, far in the back country.
And with that first frost came the cold early mornings – a prelude to a winter where snow drifts can easily reach the second story of homes, mothers transport bundled toddlers in blanketed sleds and my 5-year old has been known to strap on his skis to play in our front yard. It was with great reluctance that, upon waking shivering for several mornings, my husband and I stole into the storage closet to air out extra bed clothes – which means our August bed is now made up with two thermal blankets, a down comforter and a quilt. We have a few extra down comforters for when it gets really cold.
And as the cold days begin to arrive once more, I turn to hearty soups and stews. Not only because they nourish so completely, but also because the ambient heat caused by their cooking warms up my home and I become less tempted to turn on the thermostat – something that seems resoundly hateful in August.
So when the frost arrives and chilly evenings follow chilly mornings, I hunger for warming foods. Lentils are remarkably versatile and their earthy flavor marries equally well with European herbs like thyme and marjoram as it does with the warming spices of the Middle East and South Asia whose toasty perfumes can elevate the humble lentil with their fragrant charms.
The full fragrance of spice dissipates after it is ground, and for that reason I like to buy my spices whole and in bulk (typically from Mountain Rose Herbs) and grind them myself as I prepare my food. Often, I toast the spices in a dry skillet for a few minutes before grinding them (as I did for this curried lentil soup with coconut milk), a practice that deepens their flavor.
lentil soup: beloved nourishment
Lentils soup offers deep nourishment. Lentils are inexpensive, and extraordinarily rich in folate – a B vitamin that is essential to women of reproductive age as a mother’s folate status influences health of her newborn. Mothers with insufficient folate intake are more likely to give birth to babies who suffer from neural tube defects than those who have sufficient folate levels. Liver, too, is a potently rich source of folate. (Read more about foods for fertility.)
Lentils are also rich in phosphorus, which earned them a beloved place in the heart of Dr. Weston Price, a nutrition researcher of the early 20th century who traveled the globe researching traditional diets and their influence on the health of native populations. In a letter to his nieces and nephews, which can be found in the most current edition of Nutrition & Physical Degeneration (you can purchase it online from independent booksellers, Price outlines his recommendations for affordable, nutrient-dense diets and in that letter he heartily recommends lentil soup as a dietary staple for its phosphorus content coupled with its affordability.
Lentils, like all pulses, are best served after a good long soaking. You see, these nourishing foods contain potent antinutrients which bind up minerals in the digestive tract preventing their full absorption. In soaking beans and lentils, as well as grains and nuts, before consuming them, you can mitigate the effects of these naturally occurring antinutrients thereby increasing the nutrients available to your body and decreasing overall cooking time.
- 2 cups green lentils, (picked over and rinsed well)
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 3 lbs heirloom tomatoes, (halved and seeded)
- 1 lb eggplant, any variety , (peeled and cubed)
- 2 tbsp unrefined extra virgin olive oil, (plus extra to serve)
- 2 tbsp clarified butter/ghee
- 1 medium yellow onion, (peeled and sliced thin)
- 3 ribs celery, (sliced thin)
- 1 tsp powdered mustard
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 quarts roast chicken stock or filtered water
- 1 bunch kale, (trimmed and coarsely chopped)
- Pour lentils into a large mixing bowl and cover with hot water by two inches. Stir in vinegar, cover with a kitchen towel, and allow the lentils to soak for eight to twelve hours. After they’ve soaked for eight to twelve hours, drain off the water and rinse them well.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange tomatoes and eggplant on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and roast at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about thirty minutes or until the tomatoes begin to caramelize.
- Melt ghee in a heavy-bottomed stock pot and stir in onion. Fry the onion in ghee until it softens and becomes translucent, six to eight minutes, then stir in mustard, cumin and coriander.
- Pour chicken stock into the pot over the onions and stir in soaked lentils. Cover and simmer until the lentils are tender, about twenty minutes. Once the lentils are tender, stir in roasted tomatoes and eggplant and continue simmering, covered, for a further twenty to twenty-five minutes.
- After twenty to twenty-five minutes, turn off the heat, stir in the kale and cover. Allow the kale to wilt under in the ambient heat of the soup. Season the soup to taste with unrefined sea salt (see sources), coarsely ground black pepper, and additional olive oil.