Last Thursday I was home alone for the evening. Steven had a work-related function to go to at Gary Danko, a fancy restaurant in town near GHIRARDELLI SQUARE. He had great time there—more to come on that next week. Lucky him! But I had fun at home too.

hearty summertime vegetable lentil soup

It’s getting around that time of the year here when that often quoted, tiresome, though completely accurate saying of Mark Twain is apropos: “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” Alternatively, there’s the famous line from that popular Rodgers and Hart song, “The Lady is a Tramp,” (think Ella Fitzgerald here) “Hate California, it’s cold and damp. That’s why…”

Well it is true that the weather here is funny: always cool, occasionally cold and only rarely lukewarm. When Steven and I moved from NYC to SF in mid-June 2003, we ran the heat throughout the summer until we finally got acclimated to the “big chill” San Francisco micro climate. Now that we’ve more-or-less adjusted, it seems like a privilege to live in this Mediterranean-like coastal weather climate. But it was hell at first!

Ella Fitzgerald, Mark Twain and the two of us might have suffered here at first, but our adorable bully, Clarence, never complains. He’s the opposite: loves the cold weather and becomes miserable when the temperature gets anywhere near 65 degrees. Since last week was chilly, I took him for a long walk to give him some exercise. I let him play in the dirt at a nearby park and run around for a while. He really enjoyed it, though was merely tolerant of the bath that he had to suffer through when we got home. Mostly he’s resigned to the miserable task of grooming. It’s a good thing that he’s forgiving or I’d never get him into the tub ever!

Finally, it’s time to groom myself and face the kitchen.

Thursday is nearly week’s end in our grocery shopping routine, which means that it was a random mix of veggies that have seen better days left in the fridge. That and the cold weather always get me thinking of soup. It’s a great way to ‘get rid’ of the old stuff in a flavorful and tasty way. This soup has a bit of Indian/Moroccan flavors going on as I used a spice mix made by Steven’s workmate, Ernestina. Neither of us remembers exactly what she said she put into the homemade blend. It tastes like a pulverized version of Chex mix without the flour. It seems like it has nice toasty flavors of cumin, coriander, red pepper, black pepper, cashew nut, sesame seed, Brazil nut, nutmeg and mace.

So everything eventually went into the pressure cooker. I poured a glass of red wine to sip while perusing a new food magazine while my hearty lentil soup reached perfection on this cold summer day.

hearty lentil soup for a cold San Francisco summer day

2 cup beluga lentils
½ head cabbage, chopped
5 small red potatoes, skin one, quarted
5 small carrots (Nantes)
1 Roma tomato, skinless and chopped
1 kholrabi, peeled and roughly chopped
5 scallions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
Pinch asafetida
1 tbsp kosher salt
3 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp black pepper
2 tbsp “Ernestina’s Spice mix” or similar (see above)
1 Serrano pepper minced (ribs and seeds discarded)

Boil a large pot of water (I use an electric kettle). Pour water over lentils and let them soak for 15 minutes. Rinse and set aside. Fill pot (or kettle) with water again and bring to a boil.

Put pressure cooker on high heat. Add oil. Once it begins to smoke, add mustard seeds and let them splutter for a few seconds. Add onion then sauté for a couple of minutes to soften it a bit. Add garlic, ginger, Serrano and asafetida. Sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add remaining ingredients including lentils. Pour hot water over everything just to cover all vegetables with water. Stir. Close pressure cooker and let it cook for 8 minutes after it starts whistling. Remove from heat.

Cool a little and serve. Add a lemon wedge for a bit of acidity. I had this with the herb slab bread from Acme.

This is perfect in the summertime in San Francisco, or winter most anywhere. This soup keeps well and is even better the next day!

a tired dog might make a happy dog but a clean one makes a happy owner


I’ve been thrilled lately to be cooking from Najmieh Batmanglij’s Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey. Her rice dishes all turn out exciting and quite different from things that I’ve ever made before. This Susa polow is no exception. The book says that Susa was the capital of Elam, an ancient bronze-age kingdom in what’s now part of Iran. Najmieh suggests that this rice dish might have been packed for travelers on a famous highway that went 1,500 miles. I don’t know about that (and I wonder how she would know that?) But this dish is filling, aromatic, and tasty. Hegui thought it a bit too sweet. However, Heather at my office, whose husband makes a lot of Persian food, seemed to like it a lot.

Susa polow with lentils, currants and dates

I did use less sugar than the book recommended. Also I had beluga lentils, which I ended up cooking longer than the mere fifteen minutes recommended in the original recipe. It took about 35 min before they tasted tender to me. I sprinkled some chili flakes on the rice at the end, too.

some key ingredients for Susa polow

Susa Polow with Lentils, Currants and Dates

2 cups basmati rice, picked over and rinsed
1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
3 cups water
2 ½ tsp salt
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 2-inch cinnamon sticks
2 cardamom pods
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups currants
2 cups dates, pitted and cut in half (I used Majool)
Zest from one orange
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp black pepper
3 cups vegetable stock or water
1 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water

Boil lentils in three cups water with ½ tsp salt until tender (15 to 30 minutes). Drain.

Heat ¼ cup vegetable oil in large skillet or wok on medium heat. Add cumin, cinnamon and cardamom. Cook for 20 seconds. Add onion and fry for 15 minutes until golden brown. Add rice, currants, dates, orange zest, sugar, 2 tsp salt, pepper and 3 cups water or vegetable broth. Bring to boil then simmer covered until water absorbed.

Add lentils and mix gently. Mix remaining oil with saffron water then drizzle over rice. Cover and cook for 15 minutes more. Remove from heat and let stand covered 10 minutes. Transfer to serving platter and enjoy.

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