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no matter the weather

Red Lentil Soup_1

Most Saturday mornings in winter, I embark on an outdoor run. In these days of minimal sunlight and frigid air, the majority of my running occurs at the Y, where I round the track on repeat before work several mornings a week. The scenery leaves much to be desired, but I tell myself to be grateful that it is warm, that my toes are neither wet nor frozen and that there are interesting people to be observed.

On the weekend, though, I make sure to get outside for at least one turn about the city. It’s good to be reminded what my neighborhood looks like, and on the off chance that the sun is out, I absorb as much vitamin D as possible in an effort to quell the winter blues. Perhaps most importantly, surviving an outdoor run reminds me that I am a strong, capable adult who cannot be defeated by the snow and cold.

Last Saturday, I needed that reminder. I awoke to gray skies and falling snow, the type that sticks to the branches and pulls them down with its weight. The sidewalks were blanketed in white, and it was lovely, but the wet snow snuck into my socks as I ran.

Yesterday, however, all but the largest piles of snow had vanished. The sky was clear and blue and brilliant. Compared to the weekend before, it was downright balmy! Following my morning run, I was out and about with friends all day long, and it felt just like springtime.

Frankly, I don’t know how to handle this. Today even smelled like spring, and I wanted to open the windows and go outside barefooted. Yet I know that the frosty temperatures will return, and with them, a small mountain of snow. When it’s warmer, I dream of stowing away my boots and wearing skirts without tights; I crave bright and crunchy salads. But then it gets cold again, and all I want is a big pot of soup gurgling on the stovetop and a very large sweater.

Yet if by chance I expect cold and end up with warmth, hunkering down with a bowl of that soup and a blanket wrapped around me somewhat sadly loses its appeal. In case of the reverse, I’m disappointed that the aforementioned salad I’d begun to crave is no longer fitting, not to mention that I must scrape my windshield again.

Perhaps the lesson is that I have too many expectations. And maybe that I shouldn’t allow my emotions to hinge upon the weather.

Whatever the case, another week is now upon us. It might bring snow. It might bring something like springtime. I am bracing myself for either, or, most likely, both.

Red Lentil Soup_2

Red Lentil Soup at dinnertime

In such uncertain times, and with a long week ahead, I think it best to rely on trustworthy things, the kind that won’t disappoint. Enter this soup. With red lentils that stick to your ribs, the brightness of lemon and depth from tomato and herbs, it is warming yet light and thoroughly satisfying. I like to make a large pot for dinner and then heat up the leftovers for lunch all week long.

If you have a bowl of this on your table, a spoonful of yogurt on top and crusty bread and salad alongside, you surely will not be disappointed.

No matter the weather.

Red Lentil Soup_3

Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

Adapted from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 heaping teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus additional to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Pinch cayenne, chili powder or red pepper flakes

10 cups vegetable broth or water, or a combination of the two

2 cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed

2 large carrots or potatoes, diced

Small handful dried mint, dried parsley or both, or larger handful if fresh

4 tablespoons lemon juice, or the juice from one large lemon

In a large pot over high heat, warm the oil until shimmering. Add the onions and garlic. Saute them until they begin to brown, about 4 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper and chili powder, cayenne or red pepper flakes. Cook for another 2 minutes.

Add the broth and/or water, the lentils and the carrots or potatoes. If using dried herbs, drop them in now. Bring the soup to a gentle boil, then partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft and beginning to fall apart. Taste and add more salt if needed.

With an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor, puree half of the soup. Return it to the pot and stir to combine.

Reheat the soup if necessary, then add the lemon juice. If using fresh herbs, add them as well. If you used dried herbs, taste and add more if needed. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with yogurt, a drizzle of good olive oil, more herbs or a light dusting of chili powder.

Yield: 5-6 servings

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