Thursday, January 23, 2014

Red lentil, sweet potato and apple soup

I recently traveled 3,000 miles to find suitable soup weather. With no measurable rain and snow since early December, Northern California has been enjoying unseasonably pleasant days. Spring-like days have left us wondering how long this drought will endure. While the mornings often see sub-freezing temperatures, each afternoon brings a new record high.

As I prepared to fly to the East Coast to visit my mother, Northern Virginia and Washington, DC, was recovering from a week of freezing temperatures. With lows in the teens and highs hovering in the mid-30s, the city barely had time to thaw each day before nightfall. That was the week airline flights were being canceled by the thousands.

A wonderful bowl of soup certainly made sense when I arrived. My mother and I enjoyed grilled lamb and kubideh kebabs over saffron basmati rice at Café Shirez on the Friday of my visit. After running errands on the warm, rainy afternoon, we settled in for a quiet evening of soup, conversation and reading.

I wanted to test a soup with red lentil, sweet potato and apples for work. Since mom is always open to try new flavors, I felt she would enjoy it. (Click here and here for soups that mom has enjoyed in the past.) And I was also able to freeze several portions for later enjoyment.

As part of my winter job at Coloma Resort, I've been cooking soups for the Argonaut Café. I introduced the soup on my return to California to positive reviews. The café features a fresh soup each day at noon. I will post personal recipes as I develop them.

We long for soup weather in California. I want to escape a cold, rainy day and cuddle with a warm bowl of red lentil, sweet potato and apple soup. Lord willing, soup weather will return to California soon.


This recipe is to feed a crowd. To serve a family, divide the recipe in fourths and proceed with the instructions.

8 ounces unsalted butter
2 pounds onion, diced small
3 pounds sweet potato, peeled and cubed
2 pounds carrot, peeled and cubed
2-1/2 pounds Granny Smith apple, peeled and cubed
8 ounces red lentils
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons chili powder
4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
2 quarts apple cider

In 10- to 12-quart stockpot, melt butter over medium heat; add onions, sweet potatoes, carrots and apples. Sweat over medium heat until onion is translucent and soft, stirring often.

Stir in lentils, ginger, cumin, coriander, chili powder, salt and pepper. Pour stock and cider into pot. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook until vegetables and lentils are soft, 30 to 45 min.

Puree soup in blender or food processor, in batches if necessary, until smooth. Thin with water or stock as needed.

Prepares approximately 6-1/4 quarts. Serves 25 (8-ounce) portions. Garnish soup with sour cream, crème fraiche or plain yogurt.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cast iron soup station

Last week my mother and I joined my sister for lunch at the Virginia Theological Seminary, where she's an employee. Dining facilities at the school are called The Refectory and are operated by Meriwether-Godsey, an employee-owned company that specializes in premier dining services. Meals for students, staff and visitors are prepared under the leadership of dining services manager Benjamin Judd.

The layout of service stations impressed me the most about the operation. Set up in the main dining hall, four primary stations allowed diners to freely move about as they selected their meal. Each station included a large buffet stand with a wood framed sneeze shield. Ornate chaffing dishes held the hot food on the meat and vegetarian stations. The salad bar and build-your-own sandwich station each contained an ice well with plenty of space for square and round ingredient containers.

The soup station caught my eye as I walked past it. Looking back I should've taken more than one cell phone picture. Unfortunately, I couldn't locate any photos of The Refectory in the Internet.

The picture shows the layout of the soup pots, cups and bowls. The station was located on the inside end cap to the sandwich station. As I think about the layout, locating soup and sandwiches adjacent to each other makes sense. Two Lodge two cast iron Dutch ovens -- each placed over a heat source -- held the soup, vegetable (vegetarian, I believe) on the left with cream of cauliflower to the right.

Two cast iron Lodge Dutch ovens make up the soup station at Virginia Theological Seminary. They appear to be Lodge Model L8DOL3 Dutch ovens with loop handles.