Camp has been a big topic of discussion in my house lately. First, it is the time of year when we choose a week-long day camp for the girls. Second, Alex just read a chapter book in which the protagonist twins spend 5 weeks at a summer camp, so she is interested in all things “camp” (and she asked if she could go next year! 5 weeks!?!?! I don’t think so! <she’s 6 if you’re reading my blog for the first time>). So the girls asked me if I had any camp stories.
My girls love stories about my childhood. I get it–because I loved my mom’s childhood stories. She is an awesome story teller and I would like to think I am too. However, my mom’s memories of her childhood just seem so much more complete than mine, which have been mangled by brain injuries subsequent to seizures and near drowning. Of course it could also be that I am getting old, but I like the first story better. At any rate I have one very clear memory of camp, along with some fuzzy memories, so the story they are currently asking me to repeat goes something like this:
I went to overnight camp for 2 weeks when I was around 9 years old (I think). I believe it may have been a horse riding camp. We all stayed in tiny wooden cabins filled with bunk beds and spider webs, and you had to walk down a long row of houses to get to the bathroom/shower. I don’t remember much of camp, except it is where I learned to fold an American flag. When I got home, however–and this part is clear–my dad found me sobbing on the floor of our den. He immediately came in to comfort me, telling me that they would never send me away for so long again. “What!?!?,” I wailed, “I’m crying because I didn’t want to come home!!!!!!!!” (And the crying recommenced.)
As Sammy and Alex both observed, “Mommy you probably made Pappy feel bad.”
Alas. Alex is hard wired the same way, I can tell, and as my mom would say (gleefully no doubt), karma is a bitch.
Memory is a funny thing. Do you suppose that when Alex and Sammy look back on their childhood they will, almost by necessity, view it entirely through the prism of food? Perhaps all significant–and insignificant–occasions will be marked by what Mommy cooked or baked for dinner and dessert that day. There are worse things to mark the passage of time.
Maybe someday my kids will reminisce about the day I finally mastered a simple, pantry-oriented Middle Eastern red lentil soup. Usually red lentil soups either taste bland to me or they end up tasting like Indian dal from all my substitutions and additions–delicious, but definitely not Middle Eastern. Then I got Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: Mediterranean Whole Grain Recipes for Barley, Farro, Kamut, Polenta, Wheat Berries & More. Maria Speck’s brilliant addition of a Minty Olive Oil Butter–which I adapted to include a lot of garlic as well–changed everything. I don’t know how traditional it is, but I really don’t care. You won’t either.
One quick note: I added the black lentils for texture, but if they bother you, use all red lentils.
- 2-3 T extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 large or 3 medium yellow onions, chopped
- 1 head garlic, minced, divided (about 3 T total)
- salt to taste
- 1 T white wine vinegar
- 1 t coarse aleppo
- 1 t ground cumin
- 3 T double strength tomato paste
- 1 14-oz can fire roasted tomatoes
- 3/4 cup bulghur
- 3/4 cup red lentils
- 3/4 cup black beluga lentils, can substitute French lentil de puy, any lentil that holds its shape
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 5 cups water
- juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste
- black pepper to taste
- 1 T agave syrup (or sugar), to taste
- 1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 T unsalted butter
- 1 T minced garlic from the garlic above
- pinch of salt
- 1 T dried mint, not peppermint
- 1/4 t coarse aleppo
- 1 t agave syrup, or sugar
Begin by making the soup: Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. When it is shimmering, add the onions with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelizing, about 12 minutes.
Add 2 tablespoons of the garlic and stir into the onions. Let cook for 1 minute, then add the spices with another pinch of salt and cook another minute. Add the vinegar and deglaze the pan, scraping any tasty browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
Add the tomato paste and let cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add the fire roasted tomatoes and bring to a lively simmer. Stir occasionally and let simmer for 5 minutes.
Stir in the bulghur and lentils. Add the chicken stock and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cover and let gently simmer for 30-40 minutes (longer is better).
While the soup is simmering, work on the Minted Garlic Olive Oil Butter: Heat the olive oil in a small, preferably nonstick pan. Add the garlic on medium-low heat and let cook, stirring, for 3-5 minutes (you want it golden and fragrant, but be careful to not let it get too dark).
Add the butter to the garlic; when it has melted and subsided with any foaming, about a minute or 2 (take it off the heat momentarily if it is overcooking the garlic), add the dried mint with a pinch of salt and the aleppo pepper. Stir until fragrant, about 15 seconds, and then remove from the heat. Stir in the agave syrup. Set aside.
Return to the soup: add the black pepper, the juice of the lemon and 1 tablespoon of agave syrup. Taste for additional pepper, lemon juice, agave syrup or salt. Serve drizzled with a little of the Minted Garlic Olive Oil Butter and a wedge of lemon. Also serve with additional aleppo pepper for those who like things spicier.
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