Spring is achingly close at hand. I can tell by the way I crave asparagus again, a desperate longing for asparagus in every form – young and tender, peeled into ribbons on a salad, crisp bites barely steamed with a squeeze of citrus, and raw even.
This year spring is making itself known early - earlier than it should, earlier than normal. It is treading a fine line that leaves you wondering if it is acceptable to revel in the delights, or fear for the plants and animals should winter have one last petulant outburst. I saw my first cardinal last week, resplendent in red ochre atop a bare tree.
The other birds have returned too, joining the black-capped chickadees in song – the herons, the red-winged blackbirds, and the swans. There is a hint of green in my garden – a few daffodils poking up to say hello. Most welcome though is the light. My face gets warm when I sit down to write and I have to adjust window shades more often. I have begun leaving the door open for the dog to come in and out for a few more moments each day and my craving for fresh vegetables is moving from a whimper to a roar inside me.
Every year, every spring, I crave vegetables obsessively. I go to the store, forgive myself for buying some exquisitely green head of lettuce shipped from half a world away and they fall flat, every time. I am left still craving, still unsatisfied until the local harvest comes into play and then, well…then I eat salads daily, I have asparagus at every meal, I devour strawberries nearly stem and all – my fingers stained red and an empty carton in hand before I’ve made it a block or so from the market. Eventually I grow sick of lettuce and beets, and I begin the work of saving the harvests at hand for later. For now though, I am craving and the green is calling to me.
It won’t be long now before we have bluebirds, woodpeckers, frogs groaning out the unsultriest of mating calls, and mosquitoes taking advantage of that perfect 7:00 hour, but, most of all, asparagus, and lettuce, and radishes, and garlic scapes, and markets and gardens and, and, and…abundance. Crisp, earthy, aromatic abundance. Yes. Spring is almost here.
This simple but satisfying soup speaks to my spring craving - it has the hearty fulfillment of a mid-winter food with the light and fresh flavors of spring. The sweet potato adds a nice complexity, the spinach a fresh flavor and the lentils a grounding force to bind it all together. Served with a nice crusty bread it is soul-satisfaction.
I'm also want to let you in on a little secret: I've been planning our monthly meals. I always wanted to plan our meals but it never stuck. This year though, I decided to recommit to my goal in earnest. I scoured around for a long time patching together a hodge podge of recipes from my favorite bloggers, cookbooks and old favorites. It took me ages to pull together a menu. Not now. I have a subscription to eMeals. I contemplated joining for a long time but finally took the plunge. I choose the Natural and Organic plan, as you might expect, because it featured more of the whole food recipes I would use.
All in all I am really, really pleased. Even with my meddling (I'm not exactly known to follow a recipe without some flourish) we’ve enjoyed the recipes I’ve selected. I can truly say that I have been able to stick to our meal plans now, stay closer to our food budget, and that I would buy an eMeals subscription again. I use my eMeals subscription as a supplement to my current planning strategy, but my guess is, if you followed the plan exactly – with the provided shopping lists, you would be about as happy as could be with minimal mealtime effort. The amazing weight of having a plan in place for dinner has made a major difference in my life, more so than I ever expected! Not having to think about meals means I have time to think about other things - like working on my own recipes, in earnest, and writing, freelance work, and getting life managed in other ways.
Thus, today's recipe is adapted from an eMeals menu item. I really think you'll enjoy it. We did - and the flavors really captured the craving I have for spring right now. The reaction? Well, I got thanked and thanked again - this was the meal that hit the spot for my husband and nourished my spring cravings. Really, that is what dinner is about - nourishing something deeper in everyone and bringing them together. Couldn't have planned it better myself!
Now, if you’ve been around here for a little while you know I am not a big giveaway person unless I really, really love a product. Well, exciting news! I do love eMeals and I contacted them to see if they would be willing to give away a subscription to a reader – Yes! So, leave a comment below telling me which of their 30 meal plan options you would like to try (thirty!) (and make sure I have a way to contact you) and you could win a 3-month eMeals subscription of your own! Deadline is March 15th at midnight central time.
Wanna win something else? Follow eMeals on Facebook and you could win a 12” Cast Iron Skillet – let me know in a comment and you can have an extra entry*. If you are on Twitter you can give eMeals a follow and let me know below for an extra entry* as well! eMeals has a blog too – for your reading, simplifying and recipe perusing.
Spinach, Lentil and Roasted Sweet Potato Soup
Adapted from eMeals Natural and Organic Meal Plan #418
Note 1: This recipe is easily made vegetarian – simply omit the bacon and use 2 Tablespoons of oil and replace chicken broth with a vegetable broth. Adjust salt to your taste at the end.
Note 2: Roasting the sweet potatoes gives a nice crunch but, if you would like a softer and slightly more luxurious texture add the cubed sweet potato with the lentils in step 4 and skip roasting them altogether.
3 Tbsp Grapeseed Oil, divided (I prefer grapeseed to olive oil for its higher smoke point and neutral flavor but you can use either)
3 slices bacon, cut into 1/4 inch slices
3 cups mirepoix (1 cup each: diced onion, celery and carrot)
2 tsps dried thyme, divided
2 Bay leaves
1.5 cups lentils (I used brown)
4 cups chicken broth (or a 32 oz box)
2.5 cups water
5 oz (three good handfuls) baby spinach
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp sea salt + more for seasoning
1 large sweet potato, cut into ½-1 inch cubes
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
In a large pot or dutch oven heat 1 Tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until moderately crispy.
Add your mirepoix (onions, carrots, and celery), 1 teaspoon thyme and bay leaves to the bacon and rendered fat. Stir occasionally and cook for 8-10 minutes, softening the vegetables.
Add lentils, broth and water to the pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes or until lentils are tender.
While soup is simmering toss sweet potato in remaining 2 Tablespoons of oil. Season with a healthy grind or two of sea salt and remaining 1 teaspoon of thyme. Roast in oven, tossing occasionally until tender and slightly browned, about 30-40 minutes.
When lentils are tender remove bay leaves. Using an immersion blender give a few pulses to puree some, but not all, of the soup. If you do not have an immersion blender then remove 2 cups of soup and puree in a blender then return to the pot, or omit blending completely.
Add spinach and lemon juice and stir soup well until spinach is incorporated and wilted. At this point, if you would like a more soupy-soup add additional water (I prefer a heavier, more stew like texture). Add salt to taste – I found 1 teaspoon to be a good amount but you can adjust to your preferences.
Ladle into bowls and serve with roasted sweet potatoes and a nice crusty hunk of baguette on the side.
* Don't have Twitter or Facebook? That's ok. Go to the eMeals site and check out a menu - let me know which recipes you might try for your extra entries, up to two.
Please note: I contacted eMeals (emeals.com) to request the giveaway, I was not compensated monetarily and not solicited to host this giveaway and all opinions and language is my own.
One winner will be selected at random. If, after one week the winner cannot be contacted or does not respond a new winner will be selected. There are no restrictions based on location but you will need an internet connection and a valid email address to receive your subscription. Note: Above links do lead to a page where I can receive a referral credit for your purchase - if you do not wish to participate but want to purchase a subscription please go directly to emeals.com
THERE IS NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.
Winner has been chosen! Thank you random.org...the winner is: Elizabeth D. Thanks Everyone!