Deep in her soul, however, she was waiting for something to happen. Like a sailor in distress, she would gaze out over the solitude of her life with desperate eyes, seeking some white sail in the mists of the far-off horizon. She did not know what this chance event would be, what wind would drive it to her, what shore it would carry her to, whether it was a longboat or a three-decked vessel, loaded with anguish or filled with happiness up to the portholes. But each morning, when she awoke, she hoped it would arrive that day… -Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary) via Lena Dunhan (Not that Kind of Girl)
Our move is still months away, but already I’ve started feeling nostalgic for Berkeley. To be honest, I’m surprised by how acute this feeling is, but it now accompanies me wherever I go, nudging me forward at each and every turn. On my walks, I somehow seem to be retracing my many steps throughout the neighborhoods of the East Bay. On days when it’s almost too pretty to go inside, I find myself drifting along the tree-canopied paths of Elmwood, or across the front lawn and steps of the imposing Doe Library, home of many a lunch during my dissertating days. I swear that in the shadows of that building, both inside and out, I had some of the best ideas I’ll ever have; this past weekend, I even went inside, thinking that I might find traces of them in one of the old corners where I used to pace when either the tapping of the keys or the silence would become too much for me (obviously, there was no magical pot of ideas tucked away for me in any corner of the library; whatever was once there has now joined the ranks of library ephemera, just another one of the many books in the stacks no longer in demand). When not walking down a very selective memory lane,  I’ve also been lingering lately, allergies be damned, by all of the fragrant blossoms on my walk home; my secret hope is that by brushing against and inhaling all of them I’ll be able to carry their smells with me. It’s strange to type all of this, mainly because I’ve been swearing up and down for the past year that I’m ready for change, that I’m ready to leave California, that I’m tired of the crowds and the poverty, as well as of the obscene wealth. I guess you can call me either a hypocrite or a creature of habit; both are probably true. I can’t help that, when I wasn’t looking, I must have been bitten by the California bug.
It’s also true that there’s nothing quite like knowing you’re leaving a place to make you want to savor it. While the Greek and I do have a rather unofficial “Bay Area/California Bucket List” (Yosemite is on there and will be crossed off in May; this was the Greek’s contribution. As for me, I want to go sailing in the bay, as well as visit both Santa Cruz and Ojai) to keep us on our toes, it consists mainly of big adventures. I certainly enjoy these kinds of plans, but I also often find that the smaller, more prosaic adventures have a way of sticking with you. For example, since January, when it really hit the two of us that our California days were numbered, we started making a real effort to go to the farmers’ market in Berkeley on Saturday mornings. And though it may sound silly, we’ve been doing a weekly “Farmers’ Market Challenge,” which means that we each have to buy something neither one of us has ever eaten before–and, who knows, may never eat again. After all, I imagine there may be some markets out there where this game might be difficult to play, but, believe me, Berkeley is not this place (recall Mark Bittman’s giddiest column ever from a few weeks ago). In the course of a few months, we’ve tried cherimoyas (custard apples or the ice cream fruit; personally, I believe the latter description is misleading), bought a stalk of sugar cane, eyed dragon carrots, sampled almost all the bread from the fabulous Morell’s and, most recently, purchased both limas (sweet limes) and vanilla blood oranges, which live up to the promise of their name: they’re sweet, fragrant with vanilla and, most disconcerting of all for a somebody who enjoys the tangy blast of citrus, acid-less. 

Despite my excitement over all of these things, one of my favorite discoveries of late was sorrel, the bright and lemony green whose very name derives from the old French word for sour, surele. It’s a beautiful shade of green and its crisp, large leaves come to a sharp point. As the rules of the game dictate, sorrel isn’t something I had ever tried before. In fact, my only exposure to it was through the blog post of an inventive friend and baker who used it in a cherry dessert. I thus decided to do some research, but to keep it simple so as to let inspiration strike. I turned to a trusted friend, the all-knowing The Penguin Companion to Food, which contained the following blurb about sorrel: “[it] is added to salads and used as an ingredient in soups, purees and sauces, as an omelette filling, and as a stuffing for fish where its sharp flavo(u)r is especially good.” I could work with this description, especially since my discovery of sorrel nicely coincided with dinner with friends–one of whom had kindly offered to give me her extra copy of Love Soup because she thought I, a true lover of soup in any season, would enjoy it.

She wasn’t wrong either. This book is a delight–a fantasy for soup lovers. From cover to cover, it hums with possibilities.  While I could easily cook each and every soup and never complain, I did have a few favorites, strangely all from the fall/winter and deep summer chapters: Corn and Cheese Chowder, Cold Cream of Poblano Peppers with Red Grapes, Caramelized Cabbage Soup and Persimmon Soup with Tamari-toasted walnuts. My eye also, for no special reason save my deep love of the humble lentil, alighted on the recipe for French Lentil Stew with Roasted Carrots and Mint–again, a definitively fall/winter soup. The beautiful thing about soup, however, is that it’s like a blank slate; it’s very hard to go wrong with it and, most importantly, even if you do take a wrong turn, it’s often salvageable: herbs and lemon juice will spruce it up, a potato will absorb too much salt and who would ever turn down a handful of freshly made croutons or a spoonful of pesto to garnish it with? With this in mind, I decided to turn this wintry recipe into a soup fit for the spring table by topping it not with mint, but with a pesto made from the sorrel from the market, some green garlic, preserved lemon and feta (all of the things that I love).  It came together fairly quickly, too–the genius behind this recipe is that you roast both the carrots and onions (or onions and leeks, if you’re me) while the lentils are boiling, so your hands are fairly free to prepare whatever topping you might like. Anna Thomas recommends either crumbled feta or grilled halloumi, but I think the combination of sorrel, preserved lemon and feta, either as a pesto or even as a roughly chopped garnish, transforms this soup into something not only warming for those still brisk spring nights, but also bright and zingy–truly emblematic of spring.

French Lentil Soup with Roasted Carrots and Sorrel Pesto

Adapted from Anna Thomas’ Love Soup
Yields 5 to 6 ample servings

I should start by stating that I was very fast and loose with Thomas’ instructions and suggested proportions. In part, this was because of the offerings of my refrigerator and pantry, but it was also because, when it comes to soup, I taste and test as I go.
      That said, I followed the outline of her recipe and was not disappointed. For example, I liked the fact that she has you roast the vegetables instead of sauteing them; this method allows the carrots and onions to begin to caramelize in places, which deepens the flavor of the soup. The addition of the pesto plays off the roasted vegetables, giving it a welcome lightness.
      I should also add here that we had a lot of pesto left over, even though we were more than generous with our use of it as a garnish. Freeze any remaining pesto in a tightly wrapped container and use it, thinned with a little pasta water, as a quick dinner.

For the soup:
10-12 purple or orange carrots (about 200 grams/7 ounces)
2 yellow onions (595 grams/21 ounces)
1 leek (44 grams/1.5 ounces), white and light green parts only
1 1/2 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons (45 ml) olive oil
1 heaping cup (225 grams) French, or Le Puy, lentils, rinsed
4 cups (1 liter) water
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups (1 liter) vegetable or chicken broth, either homemade or from 2-3 teaspoons Better than Bouillon
juice of 1 lemon
2-3 tablespoons brine from jar of preserved lemons
2 teaspoons harissa 

For the pesto: 

1 stalk green garlic
100 grams/3.5 ounces toasted pine nuts
1 bunch sorrel (40 grams/2.5 ounces)
100 grams/3.5 ounces toasted pine nuts
80 grams/2.75 ounces grams feta cheese
quarter of 1 preserved lemon
salt and pepper to taste
1/3-1/2 cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Roughly chop the onions and leek, leaving the pieces on the larger side; set aside. Then, cut off the carrot tops, peel the carrots and, if your carrots are thin, place them whole on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper; if they are on the larger side, however, chop them into fairly large rounds and spread them out on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the carrots with salt and pepper, then drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Toss gently. Do the same with the large pieces of onion, seasoning with salt and pepper and then drizzling and tossing with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Set the timer for 45 minutes and place the vegetables in the oven to roast. Stir and toss the vegetables a few times during the roasting, checking them at about 30 minutes to make sure that they aren’t getting too dark too fast. Remove from the oven when uniformly soft and browned. Once they’ve cooled a little, turn them out onto a cutting board and chop coarsely (there will still be fairly big bits of onion; this soup is nothing if not textured).

After putting the vegetables in the oven to roast, combine the rinsed French lentils in a large pot with 4 cups (1 liter) water and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 25-30 minutes (the lentils should be tender, yet firm). The lentils will absorb most, if not all, of the liquid.

While the vegetables are roasting and the lentils boiling, make the pesto. Remove the rough stems from the sorrel leaves and then soak them in a bowl of cold water for 3 minutes, gently massaging  them with your hand. Pour the water out and place the the cleaned sorrel in a salad spinner, spinning until dry. Set aside. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the toasted pine nuts and green garlic and pulse briefly to combine. Add the sorrel, feta, preserved lemon and a light dusting of salt and pepper; again, pulse to combine, this time for about 15-20 seconds or until the ingredients are well blended. Then, pour in the olive oil, starting with 1/3 cup, and pulse again. Taste and adjust for flavor, adding more salt and pepper as needed. If the pesto’s texture is too thick for your taste, add another tablespoon or two of olive oil; do not exceed 1/2 cup oil total. Scrape the pesto into a small bowl and set aside.

Once the pesto is ready, turn your attention back to the soup. Add the chopped roasted vegetables, the stock, the juice of one lemon, preserved lemon brine and harissa; obviously, adjust the flavors–tang, heat–to your taste. Simmer the soup for 10-15 minutes to let the flavors combine and then taste and correct the seasoning, adding more of the key ingredients (salt, pepper, lemon, harissa) as needed. Remove the soup from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then serve. Garnish each bowl with an additional few drops of olive oil and generous spoonful of the sorrel pesto and gently stir them together. 

6 thoughts on “A Soup Fit for the Spring Table

  1. I love everything about this post! I so wish I were there to savor it all with you. I am so excited for your new adventures, but I do know the heartache of leaving the Bay. Sob! I am so glad you are having some good adventures, large and small. This is so gorgeously written, it made my heart sing. Email coming today, provided a little someone takes a nap!! XOXOXO

  2. Hooray for another soup recipe with harissa from Dining with Dusty! (I still love the one with the garbanzos and chard and noodles, and I return to it often.) And thank you so much for the sweet shout out. 🙂 I was thrilled to see that you were going to use sorrel for one of your culinary creations, and this looks like a bight and delicious choice.

    I'm really excited for your upcoming Delaware chapter, but I can surely imagine how your Berkeley nostalgia would really be following you around at this time. You should know that Berkeley will miss you, too. (Dwinelle has for quite awhile now!)

  3. Thank you–for both your comment and your email; I'm only sorry that I've been slow in responding (what a week, but yay for the weekend!). As for leaving the Bay, you've shown me that there's life on the other side, although I suppose Pasadena and Berkeley have more in common than Delaware and Berkeley…Then again, I may find myself being surprised by what's next (I now follow several Delaware accounts on Instagram and it looks beautiful; there are also pottery classes at the art museum. Can such a place be bad?). Hope you're all feeling better and hopefully I'll get to write back to your email tomorrow or Monday… xo 🙂

  4. Thank you, Ellen! I think this is the great thing about soup; it's easy to adapt any recipe to any season. I'm looking forward to experimenting with Love Soup more!

  5. Thank you, Moriah. I did think when I was posting this recipe that it was somewhat similar to the chard and garbanzo recipe (the truth is that I gravitate to the same comforting ingredients: lemons, harissa, all kinds of herbs, ice cream, chocolate…I'm not all that picky); I'm so glad that has remained a favorite for you.

    And you're welcome for the shout out! How could I have not mentioned your blog when you had posted such an interesting sorrel recipe long before I had even tasted it? I do see the potential for adding sorrel to sweets; I'll have to see where my experiments take me. Maybe I'll get to grow sorrel in Delaware? How awesome would that be? I really want a garden; it's the small things in life.

    And thanks for the sweet words about Dwinelle and Berkeley missing me. I miss them, even Dwinelle, which I sometimes believed was impossible…! I suppose the grass will always be greener. 🙂

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