Blog #17: NaNo ’21, Day 15/16

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For real though, I’m stopping for a few days to rest. I’ve been feeling the fatigue for a while now. The past month has been stressful on my family for reasons I won’t bother getting into here.

People will tell you things like, “push past your limits! You don’t know what you’re capable of unless you try!” I do know, actually, because I’ve done that, and I don’t really want to do it again. College eventually broke me of romanticizing overwork–not because the surrounding culture doesn’t romanticize it, but because I pulled off some truly baffling performances in order to hit deadlines, and it was terrible for me. I’d go home for summer break and still feel anxious, because I didn’t have a constant looming deadline on a huge pile of work and it felt unnatural. I won’t go into the other effects this had on my mental health.

By the time someone else tries to tell me, “push through and just do it,” it’s probably bad advice, because by the time I’m tired enough that someone actually notices I’m starting to flag (or I start to complain about it), I’ve already been pushing myself and it’s no longer productive. Doubling and tripling down just leads me to burnout. Been there, done that. Several times, actually; I can be very stubborn ^^;

So, I’m going to spend a few days watching Drawfee on YouTube and making soup for my family and getting enough sleep. The last chapter of my novel will be there.

In lieu of today and yesterday’s blog posts, here’s a soup recipe!

Warning: I cook like a grandma who has a strange cross-cultural pantry. You know the type. If your family doesn’t include at least one sorta weird lady in a huge cardigan sweater who thinks that “a pinch” and “a handful” and “some” and “a hunk of” are units of measurement… you should write in the comments and tell me how your family managed to miss that. I’ll contact the Weird Grandma Cooking Ladies’ Institute on your behalf, to send one over. We’ll get the bug patched soon 😉

Until then, I’ve done my best to provide estimates for the quantities of the basic ingredients. Seasonings are more up to individual taste, but I’ve provided a list of mine and some incredibly vague guidance as to their measurements (sorry).

Also, I like to ramble–but if you’ve been following this blog, you know that by now.

Red Lentil Soup

Main ingredients

  • 2 large onions
  • 3 shallots*
  • 4 cloves of garlic (more if you’re getting to the little ones at the center of the bulb)
  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • Juice from 1 lemon, and several long strips of the peel
  • 1/2 cup mirin**
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • ~6 cups water
  • Chicken base (follow package instructions for 6 cups water)***
  • Roasted onion base, if you’ve got it***
  • 2 cups red lentils
  • Seasonings (see below)
  • Sour cream (optional)
  • Cooked rice or soup crackers (optional)

* US note: your local Asian market probably has these cheaper than any supermarket.
** This is also from the Asian market, ideally. Look for one that doesn’t have too much corn syrup in the ingredients list. Sake will also work, as will mild white wine, but I’m a nerd for Japanese food and mirin has become my default cooking wine.
***I used Better than Bouillon brand for both the chicken base and the onion base. Tone’s also does good soup bases. I prefer them over premade soup stock. Bases are a paste you mix with warm water and it turns into stock; they take up less space and use less packaging than premade stock, and they’re also a fantastic addition to instant ramen. Of course, you could use homemade stock instead of water and soup base, if you have it.

Seasonings

Here are the ones I used, but you could adjust this to taste and depending on your personal spice pantry. Links provided where you might want them, they’re not affiliate links or anything.

Alternatively, do what I do: open your spice cabinet, sniff everything until you find something that feels like it fits, and throw some in. If you want to be cautious, dish out a ramekin of your soup as a testing ground. Don’t be afraid to try adding little bits of cinnamon or nutmeg into savory dishes, if you think they have the right vibes ^^

  • Ras El Hanout, generous amount (Spice House will explain what this is, and you can buy it there). I used this as a base flavor for the soup.
  • Saffron, a small pinch (it’s typically quite strong)
  • Sumac, couple good pinches (Spice House again)
  • Your favorite dried herb blend; here are a couple I like (fines herbes) (herbes de Provence) (soup blend)
  • White pepper (some people think white pepper is just for aesthetic purposes; it isn’t, it has a different flavor)
  • Celery salt
  • Sesame oil, several tablespoons (stir this in well, you won’t know it’s there afterward but it has a mellow earthiness that grounds some of the acidic flavors in this soup)
  • Sesame seeds (I think they look pretty in the soup/as a garnish, and the added mild texture is nice too)

Instructions

  1. Chop and saute onions, shallots, garlic, and bell pepper–in that order, if you’re like me and you chop as you go rather than doing that whole mise en place thing like in cooking shows. (Culinary students, don’t @ me, it’s too many dirty dishes.) If you are doing it this way, make sure you keep stirring the pot; these ingredients will burn if you don’t pay attention. This is also a good time to throw in your ras el hanout, if you’re using it; it’ll stand up to the heat fine, and it’s good to get it a little toasty.
  2. Add tomato paste, lemon juice, and lemon peel. Try to keep the peel long so you can pick it out later.
  3. Dissolve chicken base and onion base in the 6 cups of water, then add to the pot. Give it a good stir and let it come up to temperature.
  4. Add your lentils. They won’t take long to cook, keep stirring and checking them; meanwhile, try to find your lemon peel and discard it. If it’s buried treasure by now, don’t worry too much about it.
  5. Grab your immersion blender (aka stick blender) and blend it up partway. Alternatively, take out half and blend it in a normal blender or food processor, whatever you have. Leave yourself some texture, but this step helps your soup thicken up.
  6. Add in the rest of your seasonings. I go based on smell and taste testing. Make sure you stir well in between taste tests, this soup is thick and needs more stirring than your average chicken noodle.
  7. Serve with sour cream and extra sesame seeds on top. Rice or soup crackers optional but recommended.

Enjoy~!

Sorry if this is confusing, it’s based off my notes-to-self after I made the soup and my mom insisted that I make it again but double the recipe this time. :p

The process behind this–I think I went to make lentil soup, and I just opened the first recipe result I found on duckduckgo, but it had cumin and cilantro and something really spicy like cayenne, and that’s 3 for 3 on the list of specific things my family members hate/can’t eat. So I referenced it for the basic proportions of major ingredients and ignored everything else. I always do this. I’ll go looking for a recipe just to check what other people think the oven temperature should be on a boneless turkey roast, or whatever.

Speaking of boneless turkey roasts, that’s also a fantastic place to break out your Ras el Hanout blend again. (Spice House’s Sunny Singapore blend also works great. I’m not a shill, I promise.) Chonk up some apples and oranges and onions and potatoes, throw your turkey roast into a ceramic roasting dish with a lid, season it well with Ras el Hanout and garlic powder and salt and pepper and whatever else smells good, throw in some mirin and a little chicken broth (or the gravy packet maybe) while you’re at it, wedge all your fruits and veggies around it, throw it in the oven at… idk, a reasonably low temperature like 325F maybe? (this is the part I normally look up) and stick a thermometer in it when it starts to smell good. Also, I love cranberry sauce, and this still works great with cranberry sauce, so make sure you have some cranberry sauce.

Happy cooking!

Wordfully yours,

–Jade

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