Can you imagine eating the same lentil soup at your desk for lunch almost every working day for almost two decades?
I couldn’t, at least not before I spoke to Reid Branson, a Seattle nurse manager who did just that. The soup comes from Crescent Dragonwagon’s 1992 book “Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread”, and Branson fell in love with it so much that she changed her lunch routine for the rest of her professional life.
Branson’s schedule is quite unpredictable, as you can imagine: he oversees the nursing staff at the HIV clinic at a public hospital, Harborview Medical Center, where he and others have been very busy lately developments in the coronavirus epidemic. The only thing he can count on, day after day, is this brilliant, rich and fragrant Greek lentil and spinach soup. It is hearty and thick, with lentils as a base, garnished with potatoes and butternut squash, and a flavor enlivened by a heavy dose of aromatic spices – plus a touch of fresh lemon juice.
“I am a vegetarian, and it is important for me to have a reliable source of protein every day at lunch,” Branson, 63, told me in a telephone interview. “Besides, it’s fun to do. It has a rhythm. And at this point, I can do it without looking at the recipe.”
It all started when his favorite brand of canned soup, his previous working lunch habit, changed the recipe to something he didn’t like. “We had done other things that we liked in Crescent’s book,” he said, “so I went hunting and found Greek lentil soup and made a lot of it, and the rest is history. “
It was 17 years ago. Every two Saturdays since then, Branson has made enough soup to fill four glass jars, enough to last him eight lunches. (He works nine days in each two-week period, and the ninth, he starts to open a box again.) Sometimes if he makes a little extra soup – if, for example, butternut squash or potatoes earth he buys are bigger than usual – there will be more left and his wife will also get a taste.
In case you think he would miss something he ate thousands of times, far from it. Even though he always uses the same ingredients, “the soup never really tastes the same,” he said. “It’s always a bit of a surprise: the onion came out strong this time, or it’s a very good butternut squash. If I hadn’t done it as often as I had, I wouldn’t would never have noticed. “
Scale and get a printable version of the recipe here.
When Branson emailed Dragonwagon about his soup fandom, she was overjoyed: what cookbook author wouldn’t be learning that someone had made one of your recipes hundreds of times? “I am happy to have had lunch with you all these years, without even knowing it,” she replied.
All good things must stop, including Branson’s ritual lunches. He withdraws soon. “I have a countdown on my desk that shows 111 days,” he said. “So I think I’m going to take out the soup. But in 111 days from today, I plan to make a big bowl and bring it to my retirement party. This way everyone may have. “
Greek Lentil Spinach Soup with Lemon
In addition to all of its other virtues, this easy-to-savor and brilliant soup from an almost three-decade-old cookbook is vegan, gluten-free and low in fat. Do not skip the lemon’s own zing, which makes it sing.
1 pound of lentils, rinsed and picked up
10 cups vegetable broth or water
1 jalapeño pepper, destemmed, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
2 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 bay leaves
2 medium potatoes (1 1/4 pounds), rubbed and cut into 1/2 inch dice
10 ounces spinach, chopped
1 small butternut squash (1 pound), peeled, seeded and diced 1/2 inch (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, with leaves, sliced
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
In a large pot over medium-high heat, combine the lentils, broth or water, jalapeño pepper, cilantro, cumin, oregano and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer, partially covered, for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender.
Add the potatoes, spinach and butternut squash, cover and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes and squash are tender.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add celery and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, 3 minutes. Add the mixture to the soup, deglaze the pan with a little liquid soup and add the contents of deglaze in the pot. Add salt and pepper, taste and add if necessary. Choose and discard the bay leaves.
Thinly slice one of the lemons and cut the other into quarters. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice into the soup. Serve the soup hot, with a lemon slice floating on each bowl. Pass lemon wedges to the table.
Adapted from “Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread” by Crescent Dragonwagon (Workman Publishing, 1992)
Tested by Joe Yonan; email your questions to [email protected]
Scale and get a printable version of the recipe here.
Have you made this recipe? Take a photo and tag us on Instagram with #eatvoraciously.
NOTE: The nutritional analysis is based on water instead of vegetable broth.
More Voraciously Vegetarian Night Recipes:
Blackened seasoning turns chickpeas into stars of this spinach salad
Potatoes, beans and salsa add to an easy riff on chili fries
Beans are good for the planet, for you and for your table. Here’s how to cook them well.
Calories: 340; Total fat: 4.5 g; Saturated fat: 0.5 g; Trans fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 330 mg; Carbohydrates: 58 g; Dietary fiber: 22 g; Sugars: 4 g; Proteins: 18 g.