Soup for a Friend

Soup for a Friend

If you are a human being with human friends, chances are you frequently find yourself in the kitchen, scratching your head saying things like “I wish there were something I could do…”

When we’re lucky, this can mean a new baby — What can I do to help you get some rest? But when we’re not so lucky, it means How can I help you feel better? What can I do to take away a little of the pain? Whatever the situation may be, like most people, I usually come around to food.

Once, when I dropped off a tortilla pie at a friend’s house — she was a mother of three and recovering from back surgery — I remember peeking past her in the doorway and seeing a dining room table packed with foil-topped pyrex dishes. I know my delivery was still appreciated, but it got me thinking about other ways to package comfort.

I came around to what you’re looking at above: Soup. Usually two kinds — one kid-friendly like Chicken Orzo or a Classic Tomato, and one wildcard, like a spicy lentil soup — marked in zip-top bags with instructions and specific serving sizes. That way, whoever is on the receiving end can deposit the bags in the freezer, should he or she not be able to appreciate the delivery that very day. I know it’s only a small thing, but at least it’s something.

Spicy Red Lentil Soup with Greens
Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons neutral oil (such as sunflower 
or grapeseed, but olive oil is ok in a pinch)
1⁄2 medium onion, finely minced (about 1 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger (from about a 1⁄2-inch piece)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon Thai curry paste
2 teaspoons curry powder
2 cups (14 ounces) red lentils
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon white miso (optional)
1⁄3 cup light coconut milk
handful of dark leafy greens (spinach, chard, kale) shredded and packaged separately

In a medium pot over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft. Using a wooden spoon, smush in the Thai curry paste and curry powder until blended. Add the lentils and stir until they are all glistening with oil.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender and start breaking apart. (You might have to add up to 1 cup of water as the soup simmers; the lentils should always be slightly submerged.) Whisk the miso with a little water and add to the soup, then, using an immersion blender, whirl the soup until it’s smooth and blended. (You could skip this step if you like more texture.) Turn off the heat and drizzle in the coconut milk. Allow to cool completely, then pour into in ziptop bags or a freezer container of your choice.

If giving to a friend, add a note with cooking instructions: “Heat gently over medium-low heat, stirring every minute or so, until warmed through. Stir in greens for the last minute of cooking.” Or, if enjoying yourself, serve warm, topped with cilantro and a dollop of yogurt, if desired.

P.S. What to say to a grieving friend and how to write a condolence note.

(This post originally ran on Dinner: A Love Story four years ago, syndicated with permission.)