In the early days of my quilting group, we met on a Friday night. We’d bring food and gather after work as the sun started to set. We brought our favorite foods, and we lit candles. We ate a meal and worked on our quilts. It felt very sacramental, in terms of my Lutheran training.
Around Holy Week of 2003, I wrote the following poem, which was later published in the journal Ruminate:
I knead the bread leavened with beer,
stew a lamb shank in a pot of lentils,
prepare a salad of apples, walnuts, and raisins,
sweetened with wine and honey.
No one ever had herbs as bitter as this late season lettuce.
My friends gather at dusk, a motley band
of ragtags, fleeing from the Philistines of academia:
a Marxist, a Hindu, a Wiccan, a Charismatic Catholic,
and me, a lapsed Lutheran longing for liturgy.
Later, having drunk several bottles of wine
with prices that could have paid our grad
school rents, we eat desserts from disparate
cultures and tell our daughters tales from our deviant days.
We agree to meet again.
Gnarled vegetables coaxed from their dark hiding places
transform into a hearty broth.
Fire transubstantiates flour and water into life giving loaves.
Outcasts scavenged from the margins of education
share a meal and memories and begin to mold
a new family, a different covenant.
We have participated in the Paschal mysteries,
not yet comprehending the scope of what we have created.
I was not a lapsed Lutheran (I kept that word because I like the alliteration); on the contrary, I’d been planning a Maundy Thursday meal for my church. I had wanted to create a full Seder meal, the Passover meal Christians traditionally believe was Christ’s last supper. But I didn’t have any assistance, so I decided to do something more simple, a stew of lentils, which would have been a common meal amongst the disciples.
I was not a lapsed Lutheran, but my friends did have that wide diversity of beliefs described in the poem. And those daughters that joined us are now finishing college.
In the poem, I can see the elements of the Seder meal and the imagery of the early church. This actual recipe may not create a meal that’s quite as sublime, but it’s delicious, cheap, and easy. I created the recipe for a cousin who didn’t cook, so I was trying to explain the process along the way.
A timing heads up: this soup needs 30-60 minutes to simmer.
The bare minimum of ingredients you’ll need:
12-16 oz. package of lentils
28 oz. can of diced tomatoes (I like Del Monte petite cut) OR 2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
Pot of water
Several carrots (3-6), chopped into bite-size pieces (you can use baby carrots, but they’re more expensive). Carrots are SO nutritious and cheap—don’t be afraid to use a lot.
1 onion, chopped
several cloves of minced garlic (put the cloves through a garlic press or look for jars of minced garlic in your produce department and use a spoonful or two); garlic powder is easier and will work just fine
several Tablespoons of olive oil
herbs: oregano and basil (1-2 Tablespoons of each)
several Tablespoons of brown sugar (or molasses)
several Tablespoons of red wine
several Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
Put the onion and oil in a big soup pot. Turn the burner to high or medium high (8 or so on your burner control dial). Stir the onions around in the bottom of the pot until they’re limp and more translucent. Add the garlic and the oregano and basil. Stir another minute or two.
Put all the sliced carrots that you’re going to use in the pot and cover them with water. Turn up the heat of the burner under the pot until the water boils. Let the carrots boil 10-15 minutes. You want tender carrots before you go any further. Spear one, let it cool, and eat it to be sure.
Add the tomatoes and the lentils and all the rest of the flavor boosters that you’re using. Fill the pot the rest of the way with water. Let the pot come to a boil, then turn the heat way down (you want it to simmer just below a boil—you’ll probably want to keep the heat at medium low—at 2-4 on the dial). The lentils probably need a half hour of cooking at this point. If you think about it, give the pot a stir every so often (if not, no big deal).
You can also let this soup simmer away for an hour or longer. Just keep an eye on the liquid level (those lentils will soak it up as they cook!) and add water as necessary.
You could serve this topped with a dollop of sour cream, if you wish. But it’s great plain.
A pot of this soup will easily serve 6-15 people; smaller groups can get several meals out of one pot. And it’s cheap (it will cost you less than $5 to make a whole pot), so when you’re tired of it, throw it out.
Or you can turn it into something else: boil as much liquid out of it as you can. Add chunks of feta cheese to the lentils, along with tomatoes (cherry tomatoes cut in half work well), cucumbers, peppers or whatever veggies you have on hand. Voila! A lentil salad (feel free to serve it on top of greens) or something you can spoon into pita bread.