It’s still warm in Southern California during these first days of October, but signs of autumn are here. Winter squash has started to show up at the local farmers’ market. Halloween candy is in the stores, and the local pumpkin patch is setting up for business. It’s time to pull out my soup pot and make pumpkin-lentil soup.
To me, soup is soul food, the steamy essence of comfort and reassurance. The act of eating soup connects me to the story of the human family, for soup is as old as cooking. According to Raey Tannahill in Food in History, Iron and Bronze Age humans regularly ate soup, as did the Romans and Greeks. Witness the following quote from the play The Frogs by the satirist Aristophanes (Perseus-Tufts website translation):
Dionysus: . . . “did you ever feel a sudden urge for soup?”
Heracles: “Soup? Ten thousand times so far.”
My sentiments exactly.
Soup also connects me to my individual story. When I was growing up, my mother served pumpkin-lentil soup every week at her restaurant, The Orange Horse Gift Shop and Tearoom. The Orange Horse was practically my second home; I worked every job at some point, from dishwasher to waitress to cook to baker. This soup not only connects me to my own history, but also to my mother and her love of cooking.
Pumpkin-lentil soup was the very first meal I made for my then-boyfriend, now-husband. I needed something bomb-proof, because I really liked him and I was nervous. As I recall, it went over pretty well — well enough, anyways, not to scotch the deal.
In any case, I’ve made this soup many times over the years, and now I pass it on to you. Enjoy! It’s a ridiculously simple and humble soup, yet somehow, much more than the sum of its parts.
1/4 cup butter (it seems like a lot, but it’s worth it)
1-2 onions, diced
1/2 cup lentils
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups pumpkin (canned is fine)
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
dash Tobasco sauce
1-2 cups half-and-half (optional)
toasted almonds and sour cream for garnish
Melt butter in a large soup pot or kettle. Add onions and saute until lightly brown. Stir in lentils and chicken stock. Add pumpkin. Crush herbs and add to soup along with black pepper, salt and Tobasco. Simmer until lentils are cooked through, about 20 minutes.
At this point, the soup can be cooled and refrigerated overnight. At serving time, puree with handheld immersion blender. Heat to simmering and either serve as is, or add half-and-half to make a creamy soup. Adjust seasonings to taste. Top with almonds and/or a dollop of sour cream.