Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Old Friends, New Friends
What's cooking? Lentil Soup with Roasted Garlic and Bacon

I spent the day yesterday at a workshop for bloggers. For a person born before... to be kind, let’s say 1960 – and I will not be mentioning here how much before 1960 – there’s nothing like a bracing encounter with the world of technology to make you feel old and slow. Vimeos, hangouts on YouTube, search engine optimization, analytics, keywords,... You can feel out of touch in less time than it takes to say, “Tweet this.”

When I started this blog, it was not much more than a way to keep myself in the wordsmithing game. Leaving New Jersey, I’d left behind a writing group that had been as closely knit as any I’d ever heard of. I didn’t expect to be able to duplicate that experience in any way. And I haven’t. But it turns out that if you leave the door open for new experiences, life can surprise you.

Bloggers – at least food bloggers, and maybe it’s just the ones here in Austin – are a remarkably welcoming group. The ones at yesterday’s workshop and those I’ve met in other venues here have been happy to share what they know about the technology, about food styling, about photography – even to show me how to use Twitter, which still strikes me as being a tiny bit insane.

Their generosity extends even beyond the technical. They’ll happily share with you their favorite spot for happy hour, loan you their ice cream machine, or give you tips on the best spices to use in curing your own corned beef. They practice an impressive sense of community that, as far as I can tell, is age-blind.

One member of the Austin food bloggers (and there is an actual organization whose logo is above) put out a call for people to hand out wristbands for a “foodcrawl” she’d organized at the kickoff of this year’s SXSW (South by Southwest) festival. “What the heck,” I said to myself, and volunteered. It was a gray day when I left my house, and by the time the volunteers gathered (outside, naturally), the gray had coalesced into actual drizzle. We were all pretty miserable standing out in the wet, but another woman and I posted ourselves in what seemed like a good spot to catch the street crowd. To pass the time, I asked about her blogging and Tweeting, which turn out to be in a pretty constant stream from dawn to dusk. Later that night as I was checking my email, one message in particular stood out: a friend request from her on Facebook. You just never can tell.

* * *

A friend and neighbor here was laid up this past week from knee surgery, so I offered to take dinner for her and her husband. Soup always comes to mind for such instances – it’s good comfort food and it travels easily – and I’d been feeling a need for lentil soup. This version worked out particularly well, as the combination of roasted garlic and bacon gives the soup a nice smoky flavor. As with any bean soup, the process by which the beans absorb the broth doesn’t stop just because you turn off the heat. It gets thicker overnight. So if you have any leftovers, be sure to add some chicken broth when you reheat it.

Lentil Soup with Roasted Garlic and Bacon

Serves 6.

1 head garlic, as much of the papery skin removed as possible without breaking the head apart
2 Tablespoons olive oil, separately
5 pieces bacon, cut in 1-inch lengths
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2½ cups lentils
2 quarts chicken broth
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
½-¾ pound greens (baby spinach, baby kale, or ribboned collards would work well)
plain yogurt or sour cream, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375º. Trim the top off the head of garlic enough to expose a bit of each clove. Grease a small baking dish with cooking oil to keep the garlic from sticking, and place the head in the dish. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil over the head and sprinkle with salt. Cover the dish and bake 40 minutes or until a knife tip can easily pierce the cloves.

While the garlic is roasting, cook bacon until crisp in a large heavy pot. Remove bacon to drain on paper towels and reserve. Pour out all but about 1½ tablespoons of the fat. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and heat over medium heat.

When the oil is hot, add the chopped onion and sauté until the onions are very soft but not burned, 7-8 minutes. Deglaze the pot with a bit of the stock, then add the rest of the stock and the lentils. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer 45 minutes to an hour, or until the lentils are soft. Add the cumin seeds, and salt and pepper to taste.

Remove a cup of the lentils to a blender or food processor. Squeeze the baked garlic cloves from the papery skin and add them to the blender or food processor. Purée until smooth, then stir the purée back into the soup. Return the soup to a boil, and drop in the greens. Partially cover the pot and simmer another 10-15 minutes.

Serve the soup with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt, and sprinkle the bacon on top.


  1. I love this recipe...instead of pouring out the rest of that bacon grease...set some aside to add to the cornbread that would be such a good buddy to this soup!

    Eileen in Atlanta

  2. Loved this post! Will try that recipe.

  3. OOOh, Eileen -- great idea, born of the South!