Taking photos of food isn't easy. Especially when it is brown food that is what I consider totally unphotogenic. Recipe writing and food photography is another one of my blogging journeys. I've discovered some good food blogs. Wow - is that another world as compared to knitting blogs. Here's who I like so far: David Lebovitz, Joy the Baker, my friend Janis's Bite Me New England (Janis is a great lamb customer and frequently blogs about cooking our lamb!), Dorie Greenspan, The Sweet Beet, Michael Ruhlman, Matt Bites. There is even a food photography blog on the NYTimes website. The food blog world is huge! And it seems to be a big money generating world - unlike the knitting blog world which I seem to be segmented into. There is a food blogging convention! And Food Blogger Camp! It seems like a big pit that I could get sucked into if I let myself. I will just look in from the outside, for now! If you want an inside scoop on it, check out this post by David Lebovitz. It makes us knitting bloggers look like chump change. If you have any favorite food blogs my readers and I might like, leave them in the comments if you will!
Now where was I? Oh yeah, Penny's Lamb and Lentil Soup, that's right. The back-story..... The Farmer and I lived in Colorado while I was in grad school at CSU. We pretty much had what I would consider no money. We lived on my grad school assistantship stipend and what he made doing whatever job he could find. We weren't married, much to the chagrin of my mother and father. In fact, she was so upset that even though she adored "him" she never would ask about him nor mention his name. (Remember that Mom?) My Dad, being the kindest Dad in the world, would once in a while send me a check so I could pay for my car insurance.
Considering that there were two of us living on a very tiny income, I had to learn to cook cheaply. Meat was a splurge and so we existed on a semi-vegetarian diet (much to The Farmer's dislike but hey - he wasn't cooking, was he?) I have always had a love affair with soup. I will admit, I grew up on Campbell's Soup - out of a can. I used to eat it for lunch every Saturday. My favorite was Scotch Broth with Cream of Tomato a close second. In the little basement kitchen, I had a couple of cookbooks -- a paperback copy of The Joy of Cooking for basics and "The Moosewood Cookbook." Boy, was that cookbook the thing back then! I cooked my way through it for sure. I just loved those handwritten pages and funky little drawings. Still have it, still cook from it.
Colorado is where I learned about lentils. I had never eaten a lentil growing up. My mom wasn't big on cooking with beans except for her post-Easter "split pea soup" she made with the leftover ham-bone. I latched onto those lentils and turned them into soup. I would make a big pot of lentil soup and we would eat it all week long. Let's just say I overdid it! Nah, Kristin doesn't over do anything, does she? By the fourth night, he would look at me with disdain. I guess I don't blame him but to tell you the truth, I can still eat lentil soup five days in a row. I just love it.
Later on, when we both had jobs and were doing a little better financially, we took a memorable couple of trips to France on my frequent flyer mileage. We were in food and wine heaven, visiting so many fabulous little inns and restaurants. The places we visited would fill a book so I will stop reminiscing and tell you that in France I discovered the lovely little LePuy Lentil. Ahhhhh, a lentil that wouldn't get mushy and was a lovely shade of olive green. When I got back to the States, I found them for sale and I haven't stopped buying them yet.
Enter Penny Vurgulopolous. Penny was a Greek woman who worked in our mill store when I worked at TYC. Penny had a thick Greek accent, a wonderful loving Greek American husband named Chris, and in her basement, she had a SECOND KITCHEN that Chris built her so that she could cook and bake for the different parties she threw and church functions she attended. Penny came to work dressed in Chanel suits, dripping with gold jewelry, hair coiffed just so. Mind you - this was a dirty yarn spinning mill and she was selling close-out yarn. She was quite the picture! Penny was an awesome knitter (she wrapped her yarn around her neck to tension it) and an even more awesome cook. She constantly brought in her homemade Greek delicacies to share with the office staff. I'll never forget the spanakopita, the baklava, the moussaka, the melty soft long roasted leg of lamb, the traditional deep red Greek Easter eggs.......
When Julia was born, I used to bring her to work with me when she was an infant. Her health was fragile and it was best she was with me. She was a good baby and would usually lie on the floor under my big office table playing with one of those dangly overhead baby entertainment things while I tried to figure out what was going on at TYC. Penny loved babies and she would beg me to let her hold and swaddle Julia. She would sing to her in Greek, play finger games. She was just so darn wonderful with Julia. Whenever Penny was working, Julia would "go to the store" with Penny. She would sit in her little seat next to the cash register and Penny would entertain her. One day I went over to check on her. Penny was feeding Julia some of her lentil soup. I almost died. Julia hadn't had a bite of any solid food yet and there she was sucking down the soup. I went with the flow and Julia survived! It was pretty priceless now that I think back on it. Whenever Julia was going to be at work, Penny would make her lentil soup.
So that's where the name for today's recipe comes from. Sorry for the long, convoluted trip it took to get here. This is a recipe that has evolved over the years..... from the first days of lentil soup in the basement apartment in Fort Collins to our farmhouse here in western Massachusetts. Now I fortify it with ground lamb or lamb sausage. It seems so natural considering the connection with my Greek friend Penny's lentil soup and the Greek people's love of lamb.
Penny's Lentil and Lamb Soup
PRINT THIS RECIPE
PRINT THIS RECIPE
1 pound lentils (preferably French Le Puy)
¼ cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1 small can tomatoes (14 ounces)
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon oregano
1 pound ground lamb or lamb sausage removed from casings
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel and mince garlic. Chop onions into small dice. Heat olive oil in a soup pot. Brown onions and garlic taking care not to burn the garlic. Remove cooked onions and garlic and reserve. Brown lamb in soup pot. Drain off extra fat. Return onions and garlic to pot. Add the tomatoes, and lentils and cover by one inch with water. Bring to a boil, then turn to simmer adding herbs. Cook for thirty minutes. Peel and chop the carrots, cutting them on a diagonal so they are largish. Add carrots and cook the soup until the carrots are done to your liking. Add the vinegar. Let the soup sit if you have time so the flavors will mingle. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Note: Substitute 3 Tablespoons wine vinegar and ½ teaspoon sugar if balsamic is not available. The key to this soup is the vinegar!