Lentil Soup

The weather outside unabashedly screams “winter is coming!” One of the best cures for such frigid temperatures is a warm bowl of healthy, flavorful soup. Soup does not have to come from a can, it does not have to be bland, and it does not have to be unhealthy. From a young age, wintertime sometimes meant substituting tomato sauce Sundays for soup Sundays. My Dad would bring out the large pot and make the most massive batch of soup to fill at least five containers in the freezer.

Lentil soup is my absolute favorite from childhood. These odd, circular grains make their own rich broth when boiled in water. Lentils go from being rock hard to being soft and fully cooked in just a few hours. Food can be so miraculous! *Nerd alert, sorry I’m not sorry.*

Lentils mix extremely well with the classic “mirepoix” combination of carrots, celery, and onion. Add canned diced tomatoes, some bouillon cubes, and flavorful meat, and you have a rock star soup to warm you up and cure the winter sniffles.

Lentil Soup (It looks odd, but tastes fantastic)!
Lentil Soup (It looks odd, but tastes fantastic)!

Lentil Soup

  • 1 pound package of lentils (I usually use green or brown, but feel free to try red or black and read the cooking instructions)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 5 carrots, diced
  • 5 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3-4 small onions, chopped
  • 4 chicken bouillon cubes
  • salt, pepper, dry parsley, and garlic powder to taste
  • Optional, but tasty: Add a pound of cubed, smoked ham, smoked sausage, or kielbasa

1. Spread lentils out on a plate or flat surface and check for stones. Stones will usually be gray in color and look much more shriveled than the ordinary lentil. Use your best judgement. If one “lentil” does not look like the others, put that one aside.

2. Put the lentils in a large pot with about 16 cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

3. While the lentils cook, chop the carrots, celery, and onions. Saute these in a pan with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and dried parsley for 20-30 minutes.

4. Add the can of diced tomatoes, the veggies, the bouillon cubes, and a little more of the salt, pepper, garlic powder and dry parsley. Simmer for 30 minutes.

5. While that cooks, you can begin preparing your optional meat. If you use cooked meat, you can simply add that in after the 30 minutes are complete. If the meat is raw, you’ll need to saute that before adding it to the soup. If I use kielbasa that’s already cooked, I will dice that and saute it until it caramelizes. Nothing better.

6. Add your meat and cook for an additional 20 minutes.

That’s it! Serve this on top of a soup pasta and add a little grated pecorino romano cheese on top. I personally like to have pasta on the side and eat the soup as is. I’m a “soup purist.” My Dad will tell you to put pasta in the soup. You decide!

Restaurant Review: Mei Mei

Three words: scallion pancake sandwiches.

Say no more.

Boston Magazine’s “Boston’s Best Restaurants” series has become a sort of bible for me as I discover my city’s culinary stars. When I saw their entry for Mei Mei, my mouth immediately and involuntarily watered at the sight of scallion pancake sandwiches. The restaurant’s main location is on Park Dr. by the St. Mary’s T stop on the C-line. However, Mei Mei is best known as a food truck. Alton Brown was just here to try it, so I have additional proof that this place is the bomb (dot) com.

I went to Mei Mei’s Park Dr. location with a dear friend of mine for lunch. We are both Master’s students and are both in need of wholesome comfort food. Behold:

The Porco Rosso Sandwich with Sweet Corn Fritters
The Porco Rosso Sandwich with Sweet Corn Fritters

I ordered the porco rosso sandwich. A thin, yet perfectly dense scallion pancake is filled with applewood smoked ham, ginger-scallion ricotta, cranberry hoisin sauce, and fresh mixed greens. The tartness of the cranberry balances the richness of the ricotta. Add the smoky meat and the spicy kick of ginger in the ricotta, and you have yourself a one-of-a-kind combination of flavors with each bite. Be warned: the sandwich can be extremely messy while eating; but don’t worry, it is so worth it. The sandwich is light, yet filling enough to satisfy your hunger.

Now, about those sweet corn fritters. Imagine fried balls of the moistest cornbread imaginable (they use Four Star Farms cornmeal batter). Sweet yellow corn kernels are balanced by the savory flavor of the oil in which it was fried. The fritters are served with sriracha aioli and fresh chopped scallions. It’s sweet and spicy perfection.

If you are looking for an innovative twist to Chinese cuisine, look no further than Mei Mei. I will most certainly be back to taste more of their mouthwatering menu.

 

DeMichele Family Meatballs

Meatballs – what a glorious creation! The perfect pairing with tomato sauce, meatballs deserve to be tender, juicy, and flavorful as can be. Some of my most precious memories in the kitchen with my Dad include squishing the meat mixture with my hands and rolling it into meatballs. I can still hear my high-pitched laughter and feel the slimy eggs between my fingers. I would thrust my meat-covered hands in front of my Dad’s face, always this close to mischievously patting his cheek with them. Now when I make meatballs by myself, with my boyfriend, or with friends, those memories come rushing back. Happiness takes over as I build memories in the kitchen and create a culinary masterpiece. Yes, these meatballs are that magical.

Glorious Meatballs Frying
Glorious Meatballs Frying

DeMichele Family Meatballs

  • 1/2 pound of ground pork (for every pound of meat)
  • 1/2 pound of ground turkey (for every pound of meat)
  • 1 cup grated cheese (parmesan or pecorino romano, preferably)
  • 2 eggs (for every pound of meat)
  • one handful of fresh parsley (or 3-4 tablespoons of dried parsley)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • vegetable oil for frying

1. For every pound of meat, use a half pound of ground pork and a half pound of ground turkey (ground dark meat is best – ground turkey breast is too dry).

2. Mix pork and turkey slightly with your hands in a large bowl.

3. Push the meat down in the bowl so that a crater-like shape forms in the meat.

4. Wash those hands!

5. It’s time to season the meat. Add 1 teaspoon of salt, a little pepper, and garlic powder.

6. Add one cup of grated cheese and 2 eggs per one pound of meat.

7. Add bread crumbs (fresh or dried). You want the mixture to feel sticky but not too wet that you cannot form the meat into balls. A safe bet is to start with 1/2 cup of crumbs.

8. Add a handful or parsley (3-4 tablespoons of dried parsley if not fresh).

9. Here comes the fun part. Squish the egg yolks and use your hands to incorporate all the ingredients. Push the meat to the bottom of the bowl and turn the mixture over. Repeat this motion until everything is evenly mixed.

10. Smell the mixture – this is important! Trust your instincts. Does it smell like meatballs? If it just smells like raw meat, then you’ll need to add more seasoning or grated cheese. If the mixture is too wet, add more bread crumbs.

11. Roll the meatballs to the size you desire. We usually make them pretty large so that they can cook slowly in the tomato sauce.

12. Bring the meatballs to the stove and let the meat get to room temperature before frying.

13. Take a large pan and coat the bottom with vegetable oil. Turn the heat on to medium-high. When the oil starts to shimmer, you can start frying. Turn the heat down to medium. Put the meatballs in slowly, and don’t overcrowd the pan. Overcrowding will make the heat go down too low.

14. Flip the meatballs when they become light brown in color. Once the other side is brown, fry the sides. You can lean the meatballs against one another so they stay upright.

15. Take the meatballs out of the frying pan once all sides are brown. When your tomato sauce is boiling, add the meat and cook the sauce for an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the size of your tomato sauce and meatball batch.

That’s it! Prepare to fall in love with every bite.