For me, one of the best remedies for writer’s block or artist’s block is cooking. Particularly if I’m cooking something I know how to cook already: it relaxes me, lets my mind wander. But I often want to try to cook up something new. And then of course there are days when I simply don’t know what to cook. One of the best remedies for cook’s block is opening the front door and going outside. (This is actually an all-purpose remedy, I've found.) My version of “heading for the hills” is the river and the woods, but sitting on the porch for five minutes will do. Sometimes I order delivery before coming inside again; other times, I have a better idea.
Where I live, it’s still warm in the daytime, but cool enough for sweaters and for soup—this soup, in particular. It’s such a good, hearty fall soup. It's simple and comforting. The broth is a lovely, deep red, the smell is wonderful, and it takes only an hour to come together. It’s also a great weekday dinner, especially when you’ve already made a cauldron-full on the weekend. (You will thank yourself all week for it.) I’ve been making some version of it forever, but I adapted this particular version from this and this. It’s savory, warm, and HOT (depending on how much Sriracha you add), and the flavors deepen as the days go by. And, while I can’t promise it’ll rid you of writer’s block (or any other kind of block), a steamy, spicy bowl might give you the kick you need.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
4 carrots, thinly sliced
6 celery stalks, diced
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 pound brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
2 cups tomato sauce (homemade or canned)
2 cups chopped tomatoes
3 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
3 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried thyme (less if it’s fresh)
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 bunches of swiss chard, shredded
Sriracha hot sauce and lots of it!
1. Pour olive oil into a large soup pot—enough to coat the bottom. (Maybe pour a little extra, just in case you step away from the burner for a smidge too long while the onions are sizzling. Not that you’d do that.)
2. Brown the onions, stir, then add the celery and carrots and let them cook another five minutes.
3. Add the garlic and stir, letting it cook for another minute.
4.Then, add the lentils, tomatoes, chicken broth, bay leaves, a couple shakes of salt and pepper and herbs. This is also a good time to start adding Sriracha! Let the whole pot simmer for ~40 minutes.
5. Once the lentils have cooked, add in the swiss chard, and let it cook for just a couple of minutes. Perfect. (If you’re not going to eat this right away, feel free to just add the amount greens you plan to eat, so that they stay bright and fresh looking.)
This is great served with a bit of freshly sautéed garlic and grated cheese on top. Usually, though, I keep it simple: A drizzle of good olive oil and lots—lots—of Sriracha.
Previously: Our Squid, Ourselves
Natalie Eve Garrett is an artist, writer, mother and sea creature. She is a regular contributor to The Hairpin, and is also cooking up a weird and hopefully lovely cookbook anthology. Prints of her art are for sale here.