These are challenging times. Even the superheroes among us are feeling it. On top of which, it’s tax deadline day. So it’s all the more important we nourish our bodies and our spirits. A simple meal like this lentil soup offers nourishment and grace. It adds uplift and support so you feel ready to get back in the game. It’s what I’m feeding my CPA husband tonight.
Folate, magnesium, zinc and vitamin D — the vitamins, minerals and amino acids linked to good will — are legal, abundant and available without a prescription in pulses, spinach, mushrooms and seeds. Think of these mild-mannered foods as superheroes of uplift in disguise. All pulses (dried beans) contain folate but lentils, the tiniest of the pulses, pack the most. Folate, a vitamin, also known as B-9 (like benign), increases serotonin production, which releases happy-making neurotransmitters in the brain. All that, plus lentils come loaded with fiber and protein, need no presoaking and are the quickest-cooking pulses, providing satiety — that’s the happy belly feeling.
Another reason to be happy — lentils are super-sustainable, low water, high yield. and as a crop, they actually improve the soil.
Greens like spinach offer folate, too — think of foliage, leafy, abundant greens. They’re also goldmines for magnesium, a mineral that dusts away depression, so you get a double dose of well-being. And it’s so easy. Spinach plays well with others in salads, smoothies, soups and stirfries.
Zinc, a mineral that makes your skin and disposition glow, is found predominantly in foods vegans don’t eat — except for lentils — there they are again — and seeds including sesame and pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas), which deliver magnesium and also make you smile by way of crunchiness and luscious healthy fats.
Vitamin D, is called the sunshine vitamin because our bodies produce it naturally when our skin is exposed to sun. Vitamin D also adds some sunniness to our nature. Sunniness can be hard to come by these days. Dermatologists and sunscreen manufacturers urge us to limit our time in the sun and most D-rich foods aren’t vegan or animal-friendly. Cheer up — oranges offer up a whole lot of D, and it’s citrus season, so get ’em at their seasonal peak.
Skip supplements — they’re not proven performers. Lexapro, Effexor, Wellbutrin and their pharmacological friends come with scary side effects. Lentils, spinach, seeds and oranges interact with our bodies naturally, synergistically, magically. They give us a bigger, better jolt, taste better and give the happy, drowsy post-Thanksgiving tryptophan feeling without harming a turkey.
One bean burger alone won’t haul you out of the dumps, but lentils, spinach, seeds, and oranges will get you through tax season and other tough times.
Pursuit of Happiness Red Lentil Soup with Spinach, Mint and Pepita Pesto
For the red lentil soup:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 small onion minced
- 1 cup red lentils picked over and rinsed
- 2 tablespoons chickpea flour lupin flour or whole wheat flour
- 8 cups vegetable broth
- 1 pinch saffron
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoon paprika
- 2 tablespoons quinoa or millet
- sea salt to taste plus extra chopped spinach and mint leaves for serving
For spinach, mint and pepita pesto:
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves
- 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
- 1/4 cup pepitas pumpkin seeds, toasted and cooled
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- sea salt to taste
- Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the minced onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until the vegetables start to soften and turn translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Pour in the red lentils and stir, so they get the luster from the oil, then the bean or whole flour. Give everything a quick stir so the mixture forms a paste.
- Pour in the vegetable broth. Stir in till everything coalesces and becomes smooth. Heat to a gentle boil. Add the pinch of saffron, which needs to bloom in hot liquid, then stir in the tomato paste, paprika, pepper flakes and quinoa or millet.
- Stir occasionally until soup returns to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to medium. Let it cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Soup will have thickened and turned creamy.
- To make the pesto, whiz the mint, spinach, pepitas and garlic together in a food processor until they form a bright green paste. With the food processor motor running, pour in the olive oil and lemon juice. You’re done. Season to taste with sea salt.
- To serve, place a handful of chopped spinach and mint leaves at the bottom of each soup bowl. Ladle in the hot lentil soup. Top with a dollop of pesto.
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