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.)

  1. Brittany says...

    I recently brought two meals to a friend who was going through a tough time. Both were in plastic bags (it was a necessary evil for the situation) and ready to be cooked then or popped into the freezer for another time. I prepped Pinch of Yum’s spicy sweet potato peanut stew and quinoa stuffed peppers (4 for my friend, 4 for me!). She was so relieved to have some homecooked meals and I was so glad I could help her.

    https://pinchofyum.com/freezer-meal-spicy-sweet-potato-peanut-stew
    https://pinchofyum.com/freezer-meal-stuffed-quinoa-peppers

  2. jeannie says...

    Would it work to substitute French Green lentils for the red in the soup recipe. I have a jar of them and am looking for ways to use them. This soup soup sounds delicious!

    • Joyce says...

      Fave green lentil soup:
      Sauté 3-4 diced onions, 3 minced garlic cloves, some diced carrots and celery. Add chicken broth. Boil lentils separately (I just bring a teapot to boil, dump the lentils in a bowl and pour the water on top for 20 minutes or so.) Add the lentils. Add a splash of red wine. Can also add sausage. Easy and healthy, especially if you skip the sausage :)

    • Jane says...

      My husband is vegetarian and we love to make lentil sloppy joes. Actually my name is Jane, so we call them sloppy Janes. I like some variation of this recipe – https://minimalistbaker.com/vegan-sloppy-joes/ Hope you do too!

  3. Jenn says...

    With Covid, we opted to recently get takeout instead for my husband’s coworker who just had their first baby. Ask what they like, send a link to the site and tell them to order whatever they like, we picked up and dropped off at their place! Nice way to give a little treat meal, and less stress for me sanitizing my kitchen/hands approximately 1 million times while cooking for someone outside my household.

    • Leigh says...

      This is a great idea and a friend did this for our family recently. I just felt funny ordering too much. Our friend realized what we were doing and added a gift card to the order.

  4. D says...

    My family loves to grill extra chicken, pork chops, and brats this time of year to stash for our long winter with mostly oven baking, new baby or not.

    Here in MN we have a small chain called Let’s Dish that lets you (or they!) choose and make up a variety of make-ahead/freezer meals. They have special discounts for new families. I highly recommend it if you have one near you. If not, their website can give you some ideas.

  5. jen says...

    I have given “stock the freezer” showers for friends having their second babies. Always a hit and sooooo much more needed! :)

    • Brooke says...

      What a great idea!

  6. KatieB says...

    I’ve been using this strategy of flat-frozen soups and pasta sauces for giving since Jenny first posted it years ago! For new babies, illnesses, folks who are grieving – sometimes it is nice to have dinner taken care of *and* have the flexibility to decide when to use it! Dropped off a frozen flat pack of DALS lazy Bolognese with a package of spaghetti and some Parm to a friend earlier today. Thanks, Jenny, and thanks, CoJ!

  7. Dori says...

    It is also INCREDIBLY kind to deliver food to people outside of your immediate circle. When my son was born, one of my husband’s colleagues dropped off a quiche, and I still remember the kindness (and how tasty it was – goat cheese and squash). It wasn’t someone we knew well, so it felt especially nurturing that he made the effort.

  8. In case the missing comments don’t come back, I’ll repeat that a really easy way to do this without using plastic bags (which *can* be washed and reused a few times but often aren’t) is to use glass jars. I save jars from jam, beans, peanut butter, etc, especially the big ones as they’re really useful, and reuse them in the fridge, freezer, and cupboards. The soup recipient would even be able to defrost/heat the soup in a microwave in the jar, and not have a pan to clean. Glass can be reused for years and is also truly recyclable many times over, unlike plastics. Plus no dodgy BPA or other substances leaching into the soup.

    • Mims says...

      This is SO true! I use wide mouthed mason jars for everything…fridge or freezer. I freeze soups, broth, (only fill 2/3 full), leftover cooked grains, beans, fresh fruit about to go bad. I have some silicon food grade stashers in heavy rotation too. We must move away from single use plastics, we are killing our oceans. There are so many uses for wide mouth mason jars, I consider that part of the kind gesture…they get food and a highly useful, reuseable kitchen/garage/garden/crafting/storage item.

    • sanjay says...

      Can also make reusable silicon ziplocks part of the gift – a gift that keeps on giving : )

    • Di says...

      Thanks for raising this. I was mortified by all of the single use plastic in the photo!

    • Erin says...

      Great idea! My cousin is having her 2nd baby in January but she is a 4 hour drive away. I saw this and thought of her until I had a worry that the flat freeze not translating after the drive (even with ice). A few jars would be fab and wouldn’t take up too much room in her freezer!

    • Rebecca says...

      I guess it’s single use of you don’t wash it and reuse it. The running joke for in-laws in my family is “how many times do you have to wash a ziplock before you can throw it away? ” Answer – until it doesn’t seal anymore. Also, it was always expected for us to bring home ziplock bags and the paper lunch bag from our middle school and high school lunches every. day. I guess I wasn’t cool but actually I was. My parents taught me to have a spine.

    • Loesie says...

      Sorry if this sounds like a stupid question / comment but can you really freeze glass containers / mason jars and then defrost the contents later by just letting it sit on the counter, without the glass bursting or ‘exploding’?

      I seriously never knew.
      That would be wonderful and so much better for the environment!

      Would save me so much plastic 😊

    • Claire says...

      Be cautious in using glass for freezing. I’ve had glass containers shatter from the cold temperature in the freezer, or going from freezer to room temp.

    • @Loesie, yes! Totally safe! The only thing to avoid is trying to defrost the contents quickly by standing the jar in warm water – you have to start with cold water, and get warmer VERY gradually, or you can crack the jar. And don’t fill the jars completely full before freezing – leave a bit of room for expansion. But there’s no way a jar is going to explode just standing on a counter to defrost.

      @Rebecca – yep, I also wash a reuse ziplock bags until they fall apart, but glass jars are still longer-lasting, healthier, and properly recyclable.

    • @Claire that has never happened to me – if you use jars that have been used for/are meant for proper canning (where they’re subjected to high heat) it should be fine. I’ve cracked the base of a jar clean off once by standing it in warm water to speed up defrosting, but that’s all.

    • merrette says...

      Before freezing the soup it will need to come down to room temperature + be placed in the glass/masons/jars/whatever . Otherwise you risk contamination or as mentioned below breaking the glass once it gets to freezing temp. There’s definitely science behind it so take care! Save your peanut butter, pasta, pickles — really any jars for reuse! My neighbors and I drop some sort of soup off on each others doorsteps and we keep rotating through the same peanut butter jar, such fun!

  9. TC says...

    Great post as allways and a jolly good idea👍

  10. Rebecca says...

    My mom is tired of cooking (lovingly done for nearly 50 years of marriage with 4 kiddos). BUT she is allergic to dairy so I’m always looking for these types of meals to make for them. I take them over whenever and I like to make several for her birthday. Thank you!

  11. A. says...

    I was in a similar situation this spring! My husband and I froze lasagna, pre-cooked and shredded chicken, chicken broth, bbq pulled pork, ravioli, and cake in preparation. All were enjoyed during our first month of parenthood! We also set up a meal train, which was a great way to get some help even without family visiting, and to see local friends (at a distance, with masks!).

    • E says...

      I love that you prepared cake for yourselves!

  12. Gretchen says...

    My go-to for giving meals, especially for welcoming new babies, has become a 9×12 of baked oatmeal. After my parents left, it was practically impossible for me to get myself fed in the morning both times that I had a newborn even though breastfeeding made me so hungry (recovering from a c-section and helping my 4 year old adjust to the major, sudden changes due to COVID and becoming a big brother in the span of three weeks definitely didn’t help this time). Baked oatmeal is easy to warm up and is filling. I usually make a recipe with mashed bananas and applesauce for flavor if eaten plain, but to which the recipient can add whatever else.

    • N says...

      Yummmm! Could you share a recipe?

    • Lindsey says...

      Breakfast casserole is also a good gift in the same vein. It’s easy for anyone in the household to carve off a piece and have a full, satisfying meal.

    • Allison says...

      Ellen, we’ve been making that baked oatmeal for years! It’s such a hit with our whole family (ages 1-35).

  13. Anna says...

    General ideas for freezer meals? My baby is due in a few months and with family across the country, we’re not expecting or anticipating any meals. I’d like to freeze some food in anticipation – but am having trouble thinking of a good list of food. Would love recommendations!

    • Jeanne says...

      Any kind of casserole, Chicken pot pie or Shepherds Pie, Soup, Carnitas (or pulled pork) for tacos or sliders, Bread pudding, Meatloaf, Lasagne and pasta dishes like Chicken Alfredo etc, Salmon filets, Cooked Quiche, Pre-made breakfast sandwiches and burritos. Hope that helps a little!

    • E says...

      Hi Anna! My little one is almost 2 now and stocking the freezer ahead was one of the best things I did for myself before his birth. Big ziplock bags of individually frozen paleo pumpkin muffins or breakfast “cookies” ready for a 10 second microwave thaw! Soups frozen in glass canning jars: Daal With bone broth or white chicken chili or split pea or sweet potato kale white bean Tuscan stew. Also froze some double servings of chicken or chick pea coconut curry over rice. And quick things like frozen breakfast sausages, or a giant bag of frozen turkey meatballs you can throw a jar of pasta sauce over for a quick meal. I also had grocery delivery of a bunch of Cold sandwich Fixings (Turkey, organic greens, avocado, gluten free bread, pickles) and fresh fruit to round out all the hot stuff. I also stocked the pantry ahead with lots of nuts, Kind bars, Dried fruit, etc. Also stock up on coffee, eggs, toilet paper, dish soap, just all the essentials so you are set for a bit and won’t have to run to the store for so many things. You will do great!! Congratulations!!

    • Chiara says...

      Congratulations, Anna! Here are some winners for us: 1) every kind of curry! 2) puréed vegetable soups – I love a good zucchini soup, and also just had a carrot ginger soup that kicked butt(!) even after being in the freezer 3) breakfast burritos / enchilada bakes 4) spice or herb mixes so that you can make a hot meal with ease – think basil olive oil, or lemongrass and ginger 5) frozen veggies and frozen rice are perfect for an at home bimbimbap! Cook up the veggies, microwave the rice, put an egg & some gochujang (or some other hot sauce in a pinch) on top, enjoy! 6) tomato sauce for pasta! I have two faves – pasta amatriciana (bacon works better than pancetta IMO) and a rosemary tomato sauce with heavy cream mixed in. Both are perfect on pasta or a mix of pasta and frozen zoodles. Hope at least one of these sounds appetizing to you or helps inspire other ideas!! :)

    • Kate says...

      My baby is 3 months old and I so appreciated the breakfast burritos and chana masala I’d made from this list and frozen: https://smittenkitchen.com/recipes/freezer-friendly/?format=list
      Also I encourage you to ask a local friend or colleague to organize some meals. People truly find joy in being helpful and it’s not a big ask. Giving AND receiving help is how we build meaningful community. Let people do this for you! A colleague of mine sent out a google doc for folks to sign up for a slot each and there were two slots per week for two months. I had friends ask for access to the document and soon it was full. In a time everyone feels distant from each other people loved dropping food on our porch and we loved seeing them and waving and holding Charlie up at a distance to ‘meet’ them. It was logistically and emotionally so supportive!

    • M says...

      Congratulations! My mom did this growing up, and now I’ve been doing it for quick quarantine lunches: I make big batches of burritos to freeze, and then microwave (or combo microwave/toaster oven) to heat them up later. I’ve been making them with refried black beans, tofu scramble, cheese, and cilantro-y pico de gallo, but I can’t think of many burrito fillings that *don’t* freeze really well.

    • Kate says...

      echoing burritos here! The combinations can be to your taste- bean and cheese, chicken and cheese, veggie with beans, sweet potatoes, zucchini, etc. Easy to make in big batches too! And I can’t tell you how convenient it is to have something you can eat with one hand when you are STARVING, but there is a baby on you who refuses to nap anywhere other than your arms!

    • Anna, there are so many delicious, freezable meals in Heng Ou’s The First Forty Days! It’s also a must read for expecting parents. Any kind of soup/stew is so beneficial after giving birth, and there are so many infinitely freezable options. I would just omit any super strong spices and a lot of garlic. My favorites are bone broth, comforting chicken soup, dal, butternut squash, carrot/ginger, beef stew…

      One other tip…show your partner from now exactly how you like your morning beverage: tea, coffee, whatever. And get yourself an insulated mug with spill proof lid. You will be amazed at how many cold cups of coffee or tea collect around your home in those early days…with the insulated mug and the perfect Cup of Jo (excuse the pun! :)) things look a little bit brighter.

      Congratulations!

    • Katherine says...
    • Wanda says...

      Just wanted to say thank you to everyone that recommended freezer meals for Anna — my husband and I are having our daughter next month (!!!) and I also appreciate all the recommendations.

      Anna – if you have time, I’d recommend prepping dumplings (or, alternatively, getting some frozen ones at the store)! They are great for a quick lunch. I’ll personally be making some pierogi, but it’s definitely a full day of cooking.

      I love these bakery style chocolate chip cookies – we made them last month to freeze and ended up eating them all in a few days: https://www.handletheheat.com/bakery-style-chocolate-chip-cookies/

      No bake protein balls are also a great snack choice: https://beamingbaker.com/3-ingredient-peanut-butter-keto-energy-balls-recipe-low-carb-vegan/

      Congrats on your little one!

    • Loesie says...

      The zucchini and pea soup with feta cheese and lemon, from Ottolenghi’s book Simple.

      I highly recommend that book since it has many simple meals, many of which can be made in advance. Also, there are many recipes with little ingredients per recipe.

      You might think hmmm I need to buy all these new spices, but then he uses the same ingredients in the recipes over and over again so you can re use it quite a lot. Plus, I have discovered so many new wonderful flavors!

      That soup is soooo good plus it makes a gigantic quantity so you can freeze lots and lots of it.

      Highly recommend this book!

  14. Maureen says...

    I find it pretty sad that this recipe isn’t called what this actually is: Dahl/Dal/Dhal, which is a tradition and very common Indian lentil soup. If you Google, you’ll find a million of the same or similar recipes. Let’s please not go the “Alison Roman route” and de-ethnicize our traditional dishes. I would expect more from Cup of Jo and I’m disappointed.

    • Tani K. says...

      Well said Maureen! As a POC I have to say, the lack of awareness from educated,
      upper-SES white folk is getting old. Too old. When will they actually start caring about other cultures so we can stop pointing out this s*** to them? I’m tired. Are you?

    • Mom of Boys says...

      The truth is that not all lentil soups are dahl. Not even all spicy lentil soups. If I told my family I was making dahl and I made this soup, they would be confused. My family makes dahl with mustard seeds and tomato and cumin and tumeric and fresh coriander and definitely not chicken broth.

      Lentils are indigenous to many areas of the world including parts of Europe, Asia and Africa, not just India. Lentils are not “ours.”
      Thanks Jenny! I love your posts and this recipe looks great.
      hugs to all!

    • Nathalie says...

      doesn’t seem like traditional dahl with thai curry paste and white miso . . .

    • Nina says...

      I agree with Mom of Boys – not all spicy lentils are necessarily dal, especially with miso etc in the recipe. That said, I did find it weird that spicy lentil soup would be considered a “wildcard” (and by inference that chicken orzo is standard/commonplace), but I guess that just speaks to the cultural world of the writer.

    • C. says...

      Clearly there are many different ways to make lentil soup and dahl.
      So don’t be “sad” and “disappointed” – embrace the beauty of the comments section and use the opportunity to share your own recipe.

    • Kay says...

      Agree with Mom of Boys. Im Bengali and have been eating daal since I was a baby, and is one of the first foods for babies in our culture. We eat daal at least 2×3 a week for dinner. Lentil soup is different from daal. Daal has a slightly thick consistency so it can be eaten with rice. We make it with cumin, turmeric, coriander powder, garam masala or curry powder and then top it with ghee and asofetida (sp?), no broth or miso.
      Jenny, thanks for the recipes! It’s been making dinner prep and feeding a toddler so much easier in our household!

  15. Joanna Goddard says...

    A quick note to say sorry for all the missing comments! We had to restore the site today and are trying to now restore comments. Apologies if yours is missing!

  16. Jessica says...

    You could also volunteer to set up a meal train schedule, there are even websites and apps to help. That way the food is a little more spread out. And, maybe if you are not inclined to cook or if you live far away, getting takeout from a small local business might not be a bad idea :)

  17. Amy says...

    This sounds delicious. Covid friendly too! They could wipe the bag off and make it whenever it suits them. I’ve wanted to send food gifts during the pandemic, like I normally do, but have hesitated. I was too worried they would (rightfully) be concerned about germs and toss it. Great idea!

  18. Allison says...

    Yes! After 3 babies I have been on the receiving end of those meals that come in a steady stream those first few weeks and then dry up. Whenever friends show up 2 or 3 months later saying, “sorry this meal is so late!” I’m like, no, this is perfect! And of course freezer meals are allllllways welcome.

  19. Mullica says...

    I am always amazed by people who have space in their freezer to freeze anything flat. Haha. I purchased a soupercube tray and IT IS LIFE CHANGING. Now everything stacks so neatly like legos. I highly recommend.

    • Sarah K says...

      Mullica I so agree. I always skim recipes to see if they mention like “freeze it on a cookie sheet”. Nope, can’t do that. I hate my freezer.

  20. jane says...

    I am diving into a total indulgence of time and energy: making my own wagashi. I was sucked into a youtube rabbit hole after craving Japanese sweets with white bean paste, (a totally delicious texture and flavor that haunts me from my gap year in Tokyo), watching these gorgeous creations being made. My ceramics class is on indefinite pause so I’ll be channeling my creativity into attempting these confections to enjoy with a variety of teas. This post has inspired me to make little boxed gifts of them – thanks!

  21. Julia says...

    If I was in an uncomfortable situation, I would so much appreciate such a kind and yummy gesture from anybody. It feels so very personal, and a warm soup packed with nutrients always gives me a sense of security.