Once upon a time, I met a woman named Crescent Dragonwagon.
She told me about Caldo Verde and Marrakesh Melange and a beautiful Rose of Persia Cake.
Sounds like a fairy tale?
Well, my “once upon a time” was just a couple of weeks ago, I did meet Crescent at the North End, and while those recipes all sound too exotic and intimidating, they are not – because they are bound by the versatile, economical, beloved bean.
(And yes, her name really is Crescent Dragonwagon.)
I was part of the Boston Brunchers crew that met with the ever-charming, prolific, James Beard Award-winning author, who talked to us about her latest cookbook Bean by Bean.
While I’m already a big fan of beans (I enjoy beans in both savory and sweet dishes), I admit that my experience with beans are limited to the canned kind. Unless we count peanut butter (remember that the peanut is a legume!) then I have plenty of experience with that.
I received a copy of Bean by Bean in advance and I bookmarked several recipes already, but the first one I tried was a simple, no-nonsense, hearty recipe for Syrian-Style Red Lentil Soup.
I’ve had lentil soup before but have never made it myself at home. I am somehow intimidated by Middle Eastern recipes, but Bean by Bean (and Crescent’s easy-going, engaging personality) eased my anxiety. The dish is also called “Shawrbat Addas” which initially made me think that I might need to buy the ingredients at some obscure exotic market…
… but of course my friendly neighborhood Whole Foods had everything I need, starting with these lovely salmon-colored lentils.
I love the bright colors, and I was expecting a bright orange soup, too (I told you I’m a lentil newbie) but I’m glad I read the whole recipe and the introduction, because then I learned that red lentils become “a duller but still-appealing golden-yellow color” after cooking.
Sure enough, my soup ended up a dark yellow, although I wouldn’t say that there’s anything dull about it.
I asked Crescent if I can share the recipe with you guys and she answered with “absolutely, babe!” so here you go:
Syrian-Style Red Lentil Soup with Onions and Herbs
2 1/4 cups slit red lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
vegetable oil cooking spray
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 to 3 cloves garlic (more or less to taste), finely minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup finely minced fresh parsley
1/2 cup finely minced fresh cilantro
lemon wedges, for serving
extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
- Put the lentils in a large soup pot. Add 10 cups water. Bring the lentils and water to a full boil, then turn down the heat to medium-low and cover partially. Let simmer, giving the occasional stir, until the lentils are a mushy, medium-thick uniform potage, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add salt and stir well. Continue to simmer over low heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally to keep the lentils warm while you finish the soup.
- Spray a heavy skillet with vegetable oil (or use a nonstick skillet), and place it over medium heat, Add the olive oil and, when it is hot, add the onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion as softened and is translucent but not browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Then lower the heat slightly and add the garlic, cumin, and coriander. cook about 30 seconds (make sure not to cook the garlic over high heat; it burns easily). Remove from the heat and stir gently into the simmering lentils.
- Dissolved the flour in 1/4 cup water and stir it, too, into the soup. Simmer, stirring often, until the soup loses any raw flour taste, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the fresh herbs, if using, and simmer until they wilt, about 5 minutes more.
- Serve hot, passing the lemon wedges and additional olive oil at the table so each diner can modify his or her bowl.
I did make a few slight changes when I made this soup: I added 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder (you know I like heat), I omitted the flour (I thought it was already thick enough as is), and after squeezing some lemon juice onto the bowls, I topped the soup with a dollop of nonfat Greek yogurt, fresh ground black pepper, and a shake of dried parsley flakes.
recipe by Crescent Dragonwagon, in Bean by Bean
(printed with permission)
I had lunch with Crescent at Ducali Pizza, a great little find in the North End (the lunch was provided for free, courtesy of Boston Brunchers). Ducali is closer to TD Garden than all the other restaurants in Little Italy, which means I will be getting pizza next time I go to a Celtics game or a concert.
My favorite was the Rugola pizza: mozzarella with arugula, drizzled with truffle oil, and topped with shards of Parmiggiano Reggiano.
It was Crescent’s favorite too. I should’ve known she was a woman after my own heart. (When I asked her to autograph my copy of the cookbook, she signed off with “… to sweetness and abundance!”)
And judging by how much I liked her red lentil soup, I’m going to be cooking and tasting a lot more of her recipes, too.
Do you ever cook with lentils? What’s your favorite bean recipe?