Thursday, December 21, 2017

The No-Cost Gift

What’s cooking? Curried Squash &  Red Lentil Soup with Parsley Oil

In this Age of Acrimony, the Kitchen Goddess has been thinking that maybe we just need to start small, rebuilding trust and good will on a truly local level. So here are a handful of suggestions – admittedly, not all of which are no-cost, but we have to start somewhere...

The truly no-cost gift

1. Shake someone’s hand, and while you do, look them in the eyes and tell them how glad you are to see them or how much you appreciate what they do or who they are in your life. If hand-shaking seems inappropriate, try putting your hand on his/her arm or shoulder. Scientific research now correlates physical touch with a broad assortment of benefits, including decreased violence, increased trust, greater well-being in terms of reduced cardiovascular stress and increased production of white blood cells, and increased cooperation.

2. Hold the door open for someone. Expressing kindness to others, even strangers, makes you feel better about yourself.

3. Take a moment to tell a sales clerk “Thank you.” It’s a pretty brutal time of year for those people – they have to find the energy after work to do their own shopping. So say something nice to them. Especially grocery store clerks – you have no idea how many of them get little acknowledgment of their work or their presence in your life.

The low-cost gift

1. Drop a $5 bill in a Salvation Army bucket, and thank the man/woman in the Santa suit for helping out.

2. Pay it forward. Cover the cost of the car behind you in line at your favorite drive-through. At one fast-food restaurant in Canada, the spirit was so infectious, it caught on for more than 200 cars in a row.

OK, maybe this one might cost more than a little

If you keep your eyes open, you’ll find opportunities everywhere. In my grocery store the other day, the elderly man in front of me was having a hard time making his credit card work. “Let’s use this one,” I said, as I swiped my card through the machine. When he realized I was offering to pay for his groceries, he was so overwhelmed, I thought he was going to hug me. The clerk and I just grinned at each other. Made my day, I can tell you.

And in the spirit of feeling warm and fuzzy, here’s the Kitchen Goddess’s gift to you. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes in total (even with the chopping!), as long as you can find pre-cut butternut squash – if not, add another 20 minutes. It’s gluten-free and lactose-free, and it tastes like a quiet evening in front of a crackling fire.

Kitchen Goddess notes: (1) Ginger is one of those herbs or spices that pack a tremendous punch in raw form – so much more than the powdered stuff. It may be the most important ingredient in this soup, so make an effort to pick up a nice big piece of ginger root at the grocery store for this recipe. Freeze what you don’t use – peeled or unpeeled – there’s always a knob of ginger in the KG’s freezer, and it’s almost easier to grate in the frozen state. To remove the skin – even when frozen  use a veggie peeler or scrape the edge of a spoon against the ginger. Grate it on a rasp.

(2) The Omani lime I mention is a great flavor-enhancer for soups and stews, especially ones like this with a Middle Eastern flavor. Small limes boiled briefly in salt brine, they are then dried in the sun for several weeks, until they start to resemble..., well, something that’s been boiled in salt brine and dried in the sun for weeks. Dimpled, musty smelling, and almost black on the inside. Sort of like some of the lemons and limes in the bottom of my fridge’s fruit drawer. Only these are rock hard and have an amazing citrus flavor. An article in The NY Times described them as “one of those power ingredients that can transform a whole range of dishes with virtually no effort on your part.” The KG gets hers from – where else? – A 4-ounce bag will run you about $8.

(3) The parsley oil (or cilantro oil) isn’t a must but it adds another level of flavor to this dish. I know, it sounds very frou-frou, but it’s really easy to make and will last quite a while in your fridge. If you make it with parsley, use only leaves (the stems are bitter); with cilantro, you can use leaves and stems.

Curried Squash and Red Lentil Soup

Adapted from a recipe by Ruth Cousineau in Gourmet magazine, February 2009

Serves 4-6 (main course)


For the soup:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1½ pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
1 large onion, diced (about 1¼ cups)
2-3 medium carrots, diced (¾ cup)
2 celery ribs plus leaves, diced (¾ cup)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2½  tablespoons grated ginger
2 tablespoons mild (sweet) curry powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (can substitute ¼ teaspoon chili flakes or a dash of cayenne)
1 cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
2 quarts water
6 teaspoons Knorr powdered Chicken Bouillon (or 3 large bouillon cubes)
1 dried Omani lime (optional – see Note above)
1-1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice

For cilantro/parsley oil:
½ cup chopped cilantro (or parsley)
½ cup vegetable oil or grapeseed oil
½ teaspoon salt

Accompaniment: cooked basmati rice (optional)


In a large heavy pot over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil until the foam subsides. Add the squash, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, ginger, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 20 minutes.

Add the curry powder, cumin, and Aleppo pepper (or chili flakes) and cook, stirring constantly, for another 2 minutes.

Stir in the water, then add the lentils, the Knorr powder, and the dried lime (if you have any). Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, covered, until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, make the cilantro/parsley oil: purée the herb of your choice in a blender with the oil and the salt.

Take the soup off the heat and stir in the lemon juice plus ½ teaspoon salt. Discard the dried lime. If you like a creamier look, purée a cup or two of the soup in a blender, and add that back to the pot. Season to taste with additional salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle about a teaspoon of the herb oil on each serving of soup.

The original recipe called for serving the soup over Basmati rice, but the Kitchen Goddess prefers it straight, and only adds rice when there’s not enough soup for a meal.

Happy holidays to you all, and may the spirit of giving embrace you and guide you throughout the year.


  1. 4. Gifted food you would never eat? (Or maybe you WOULD eat but shouldn't)...? Take it over to your local food bank or church holiday homeless meal. Even if you don't volunteer as a server, every bit of food is appreciated.

    1. Nice thought, Steve. And happy holidays to you and Suzanne!