It was a challenge. It was, albeit, a challenge that was presented to me over a month ago (I know, I know, I'm cringing the shame of my laziness RIGHT NOW), and it was a big one. Jeff invited his friends from school, Sally and Dave, to dinner. It was going to be a grand time. A grand time, that is, until I realized that I would be hit with the double whammy of all my easy-as-pie comfort dishes getting thrown out the window.
First, off, know that Sally is vegetarian. Fortunately, she's the generous type of vegetarian, the kind that eats fish and cheese. In my house, vegetarian is something that I aspire to maybe three, four days a week. In my heart of hearts and in my brain of brains, I know that a grain and vegetable based diet is better for me (at least it is sometimes). I like vegetables! Also, let's please remember senior year of college, when I lived with one dedicated and two waffling vegetarians. But let us please also remember the nights when Noël would come hunting for me to have a burger eating accomplice. Fin bref, vegetarian cooking is not a huge deal.
Then there was Dave. Dave, the first time I met him, ate fries off my plate before I was finished with them. The second time I met him, I told him that under no uncertain terms was he going to do that again. Apparently, he hadn't realized that might bother me, the first time, and then proceeded to feel bad about it. We have been friends since. Also, Dave is basically omnivorous. Almost. Unfortunately, for him and for my dinner, he is lactose-intolerant.
No meat. No cheese. No butter.
I tried not to freak out.
The menu went though quite a few incarnations. I waffled. I thought about sneaking some cheese in there somewhere. And then I thought about Dave being sick all over my house, and decided to stay on the straight and narrow. It really shouldn't have been that hard. But I promise you that I wracked my brain for days, only to come up with an acceptable solution at the very last minute.
It was a meal of lentil soup, caramelized onion and roasted tomato tart, a greens, asparagus and haricots verts salad, and lemon bars.
All in all, it was an acceptable meal. I wasn't thrilled with it, but everyone else seemed happy, so that's really what counts.
The soup was definitely the star of the meal. I plucked the recipe from the New York Times a few months back, and it's just delicious. And unlike the other lentil soups I make, this one isn't bacon-laden or thick (though I do have a weakness for bacony lentil soups). But sometimes it's just so much better to have something lighter, less weighty. Especially as spring has reared but it still gets chilly enough at night for something hot. Or if you just like soup.
Red Lentil Soup, adapted from the New York Times
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt, pepper and chile powder or hot chile flakes, to taste
1 quart vegetable broth
1 cup red lentils
1-2 carrots, peeled and diced
1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add the onions and garlic, and sauté until golden.
2. Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper and chile powder, and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes more.
3. Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, and then turn heat to medium low. Simmer until lentils are soft and breaking apart, about 30 minutes or so. Taste for seasonings.
4. Purée half the soup in a blender. Or, if you're luckier than I am and have an immersion blender, use that. Return purée to soup, and reheat. Your soup should not be totally smooth--chunks of carrot, onion and lentil are nice.
Serve drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice if you like. Cilantro is also a nice garnish.