The Power of Lentil Soup

A cold that had been threatening for a couple of days making my nose run and throat sore, strengthened overnight, and by Sunday morning was burrowing into my chest giving me a deep, rattling cough. The cold worsened even more last night, so I’m staying home from work today. I wonder what to have for lunch and remember the soup that I prepared on Sunday.

I signed up to make lentil soup for the Maundy Thursday Seder meal at the church later this week. Our church enjoys learning about and celebrating traditions of other faiths, and the Seder meal has become a part of our Holy Week practices. I began to prepare the soup early Sunday afternoon, suspecting that I would run out of energy later in the day. Last year I made vegetarian lentil soup for our church’s Lenten soup and sandwich meals, partly as a challenge to myself. I love making soups, but I always start with a broth made from meat. I wanted to try my hand at making a vegetarian broth. The soup I made was well-received and I was asked to prepare it again for last year’s Seder meal. I made a very large batch of broth so that I would have plenty left over to freeze. I wanted to have some handy just in case a friend or family member got sick and needed some TLC. I’m convinced that there’s nothing better than homemade broth for whenever viruses or infections get the better of us.

A year has passed and thankfully, no one had need of my supply of homemade broth. I decided to use it as a base for the lentil soup for this year’s Seder meal. I thawed four cups of the frozen broth and then began preparing the vegetables. I chopped up lots of garlic (quite a lot more than the recipe called for), onion, and celery and put them in some oil in the kettle. While they were browning, I washed up several carrots from last year’s garden and prepared them for the soup. Even though my recipe didn’t mention green beans, I thought that they would be a nice addition. I use my soup recipes as a guide and often add or substitute different ingredients and amounts than are called for. The resulting soup never turns out the same way twice, and that is part of the fun for me. I really enjoy the give and take of the various flavors that blend together in the pot.

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I started the broth last year by roasting the assorted vegetables.

I feel a sense of belonging, of connection, through this simple task of preparing part of a shared meal, and realize that connection is what my soup-making task really is all about. It seemed completely appropriate when I realized that “Lent” is part of the word “lentil.” The soup I made today is connected to the soup I made last year for the people who attended the Seder meal: friends, members, strangers, whoever they may be. I won’t be able to attend the Seder meal and Tenebrae service this year, but I feel connected to those people who will share the tradition. The soup I’m making will become part of them and our community, and I will be there too, in spirit. Often, when we plan to enrich the lives of others around us, unexpectedly we end up enriching ourselves in the process. Now I’m going to warm up a bowl of that lentil soup for lunch.

This is a poem I wrote about the joy I feel in the process of preparing a simple meal to share with others:

IN MY KITCHEN

I make poems sometimes.

I start with a cup of raw great northern beans
boil and soak, add a ham bone, salt and spices
carrots, celery, tomato sauce
simmer, stir and taste.

Other days, the poem starts with potato water
honey, yeast, and flour
stir, knead, rise
punch down, shape, and bake.

We eat the poem and then
may go outside for a night-time walk
under crisp stars overhead —
sometimes one falls.

Usually there are leftovers from the poem
to take for lunch later in the week
or eat with butter and honey for breakfast.
These poems usually don’t last too long

but they’re delicious.

“In My Kitchen” by Ruby Wilson, from At the Rim of the Horizon (Finishing Line Press, 2014)
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