A Soup of Three Chords

I could kill for a turkey club.  I had oral surgery last week.  After the initial swelling went down—and I was no longer able to do Vito Corleone imitations—my repertoire of pureed meals became tiresome.  

Since then even ice cream has lost its luster.

Which brings me to custards for a slight digression. I wish someone would explain why flan is listed on so many post-dental procedure diet lists.  Sure it is delicious, and soft.  But I can’t imagine many people saying, “I just had skin from the roof of my mouth grafted to my front gums, and you know what I feel like doing?  Making FLAN! What a craving!”

Anyway, things now look fairly normal from the outside, which means I have been at work all week trying to maintain a normal demeanor on pureed squash soup and mashed bananas. 

A turkey club—with its sharp right angles and bias for incisors—is still out of the question. Unless I puree it.  Which, quite frankly, I have not ruled out.

For today though, I have soup.  A few weeks ago my mom and I met up in Stockbridge and spent the weekend eating, shopping, and visiting Edith Wharton’s compound, as one does in the Berkshires. 

The food we ate in Western Massachusetts was shockingly good. We had roast turkey sandwiches at Widow Bingham's Tavern, a bar at The Red Lion Inn. The Friday after Thanksgiving kind with real turkey, stuffing, and cranberry mayonnaise on hearty bread.  We also had pork meatballs in a smoked tomato sauce that reminded me of childhood, though I can’t remember ever having a meal like that.

We also ate at Prairie Whale.  Which has all the things I look for in a restaurant. The skull of a horned animal on the wall, a very excellent beer and wine list, a menu that offers both fresh pasta and fried chicken, and a political sense of humor (see below).  Great restaurant.  Tremendous restaurant.

At No Six Depot we had a lovely soup that was plainly labeled “vegetarian lentil.” The cafe's mission is to “play three chords and the truth,” like a Dylan song.  And our soup did just that.  Which is what I am really here to talk about.

Our bowls were filled with corn, big chunks of roasted red pepper, fresh basil, and brown lentils—the kind the size of small buttons. The broth was delicate and complex, tasting faintly of tea.  Nothing ordinary about any of it.  Though, its sincerity made it easy to piece together most of its ingredients. 

With the help of Mr. Bittman and The Times, I guessed the conscious souls at the Depot capitalized on Lapsang Souchong, a smoky and oddly savory tea—perfect for a vegetarian base. It is an ingredient that delicately makes its presence known when I open the cabinet, with a misplaced whisper of bacon or scotch.

The whole soup is incredibly easy to put together and relies upon staples you can keep in your kitchen.  The only caveat is that if you are sensitive to caffeine, it might work better as a lunchtime meal.

Sadly, this pretty little soup had to be whirled in a blender this week—along with most everything else I wanted to eat.  I soon hope to broaden my liquid diet to include a glass or two of wine (no pureeing necessary).  

For now, a cocktail of lentils and tea will do.  Hopefully, its song is strong enough to keep me from shoving a beautiful turkey club in a blender. In the meantime, if you see her say hello.

Brown Lentil and Black Tea Soup
Inspired by No. Six Depot


1 scant cup brown lentils, picked over to remove any debris
¼ cup peeled sliced fresh ginger
4 tea bags (or ¼ cup loose leaves) Lapsang souchong tea
2 to 4 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ jalapeño, diced (with the seeds)
1 small head of bok choy (about 10 stalks and leaves), chopped into bite-sized pieces
½ cup tamari soy sauce
10 turns of freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces frozen sweet corn
16 ounce jar of roasted red peppers, drained and cut into bite-sized pieces
½ cup loosely packed basil leaves, roughly chopped or torn
salt, to taste


To cook the lentils

Place the lentils in a medium saucepan and cover with water by 2 to 3 inches.  Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until tender. (I prefer to leave my lentils uncovered, so I can keep an eye on them—simply add more water as needed to keep the lentils submerged.  Or cover them with a lid during the cooking process.) When they are cooked through and no longer crunchy, drain them; set aside.

For the broth and remaining soup

While the lentils are cooking, make the broth.  In a medium saucepan, place the ginger in 8 cups of water and bring to a boil; turn off the heat and let rest for a few minutes.  Add the tea and steep for 5 to 10 minutes (I steeped closer to 5 minutes). 

Meanwhile, heat a large pot on medium high heat and add a glug or two of olive oil (enough to sauté the first four vegetables). Add the onion and cook for about a minute, then add the garlic and jalapeño; sauté until softened, stirring occasionally. Add in the bok choy (if using, see notes) and sauté, stirring occasionally until softened. The whole process should take about five minutes. Turn off the heat until the broth is ready.

Strain the broth into your large pot using a wire mesh strainer, leaving behind the ginger and tea. Season with soy sauce, adding ¼ cup, tasting, and adjusting from there.  (I found I needed double that amount, but it will depend on your brand.)  Add in black pepper.

Bring the liquid to a simmer and add the frozen corn, roasted peppers, and cooked lentils. Once the liquid returns to a simmer, turn off the heat.  Add in the basil and another glug of olive oil, if desired.  Salt to taste.

Makes about 10 cups

-You could probably leave out the bok choy if you don’t have it or substitute a handful of spinach instead.
-The lentils can also be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated until needed.
-I recommend looking for the Lapsang souchong tea because it provides such a unique flavor, but if you can’t find it, try another aromatic black tea.

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