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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Frugal Cooking: Deborah Madison's Lentil Minestrone

My mention of Marcella Hazan’s cabbage soup caused a minor sensation. Like many people, I always think everyone knows what I know. So I assume that everyone knows about Marcella Hazan’s wonderful cookbooks and that everyone has read them cover to cover as I have.

Another wonderful cookbook author is Deborah Madison. Like Marcella, she puts out cookbooks in which everything is tested. Sadly, this is not always the case. There is nothing more annoying to the frugal heart than wasting precious time, money, and ingredients on something that doesn’t work. If I were to buy one Marcella book, it would be Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. If I were to buy one by Deborah Madison, it would be the famous Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This is a pricy tome, but worth it, whether you get a deal on it or buy it full-price from your local bookshop. I received my copy from my dear in-laws in 1998.

The only problem with Madison’s book is that, perhaps because it is huge (over 700 pages), and because many of her categories overlap, it is difficult to use. The index is terrible (perhaps this was fixed in the new edition that came out recently). I have made a couple of things that I could not find again. Now I write the page numbers of things I want to find again on the title page of the book.

On Sundays, my thoughts turn to dinner for the next week. Breakfast is easy, since we discovered steel-cut oat groats. Lunch is easy because we have peanut butter sandwiches at work most days. I dislike frantic cooking when I get home from work, so I like to make soups. Since I work from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I generally cook on those days plus Sunday. Luckily, we love leftovers.

I have a stuffed pantry and freezer, so one of my goals is to “eat from the pantry” for a while. Today, out of love for Mr. DFS, I will be making Madison’s lentil minestrone, which is a favorite soup both of the cookbook author and of Mr. DFS.

Ingredients (with some variations, based on my habits; I am leaving out the aromatics)
2 TBS olive oil
2 cups finely chopped onion
2 TBS tomato paste (I use canned tomato or even a bit of ketchup!)
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 cup chopped celery

Saute all these.

Then add 1 cup washed lentils (I use brown), 9 cups water. Cover and simmer till lentils are done (30-45 minutes).

Then add: mushroom soy sauce to taste (I use regular), 1 bunch greens, 2 cups cooked pasta. Salt and pepper to taste.

Top with parmesan.

Frugal people! Don’t run to the store! If you don’t have tomato paste, use regular canned tomato. If you don’t have lentils, use another bean (but lentils and split peas cook in 1/3 the time). If you don’t have pasta, use rice or even croutons or pieces of toast. If you don’t have greens (I have a garden), use a box of frozen spinach. If you don’t have parmesan, use any old cheese.

YumYum. Frugal, easy, and flexible.


Anonymous said...

I often make soup at the weekend to save time in the evenings. It is also nice to take a thermos of soup in (the microwave at work was declared a health hazard and removed sadly). This sounds good so I will try it - I have everything except the celery - is there a satisfactory replacement for that too?

Frugal Scholar said...

@alienne--I'd just leave out the celery. Warning: even D Madison says the soup will seem bland till the end when it all comes together. To me, it tastes better the second day. For Mr DFS, this soup is pure bliss. You really need to season this one.
Mine is all done for tomorrow; will add greens and pasta before serving.
Hope you like it.

Duchesse said...

Frugal, there are copies of Deborah Madison's book on eBay now for $7- $15 (plus shipping of course).

If any vegetarian soup seems bland (and you are not vegetarian) add a cube of beef glace de viande (or demi glace, which is lighter) to give
depth and flavour. Make it yourself and store in the freezer. A little goes a long, long way.

Over the Cubicle Wall said...

I am going to have to give this one a try. Thanks for posting the recipe.

(our breakfast and lunch sound a lot like mine).

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--Glace de viande makes everything wonderful! Even a bit of bacon or sausage can pep up a bland soup.

@Cubicle--I just had the soup and it did seem a bit blah. So I sprinkled on some olive oil and added the parmesan. We ate it while watching "Les Liaisons Dangereuses"--a blissful meal.

Amanda said...

Very smart tips at the end there! I am ALWAYS substituting things when i don't have an ingredient. It can be very costly to run to the store every time you need something.

i've started a new blog event called Thrifty Thursdays if you are interested in cooking along! :)