I have never actually craved the traditional “comfort foods” and yet I have recently found and enjoyed some delicious and cozy meals to warm these brisk autumn evenings.   I have always loved to flip through cooking magazines, scan health food books and saunter through recipe websites, collecting treasures along the way.  While living with my husband, I experimented regularly with collected recipes and as we ate, we would decide whether it was a keeper or a throw away.  It was a mostly tasty system for getting through the always growing stack.  I haven’t been as diligent about trying new things now that I am working through dinnertime most nights.  In the name of making life easy for the sitters and comfortable for the kids, I tend to leave meals that I already know will be eaten enthusiastically rather than questioned suspiciously and refused wholeheartedly.  Recently, however, I pulled out a recipe that has been in my “untried” box for years, made it and left it to be reheated.  The sitter, the kids, the landlord and I voted unanimously that this is indeed a keeper for us.

I would consider this more of a stew than soup, but that may simply be a semantic difference.  I like my “soups” to be hardy and thick, without a lot of extra broth, and so this fits our tastes well.  Its primary texture is creamy and a bit mushy, but that is partly what makes it feel so comforting. It’s a bit like the beloved home-made mac & cheese with a few more health benefits.  This is not a soup that screams with flavor, and may actually smell more flavorful than it tastes.  It is a calming, satisfying and yummy meal that is perfect on just the right day.  The leftovers were great the next day as my 5 year old took a thermos full to kindergarten and I enjoyed a bowl at work with a small spinach, goat cheese and walnut salad.

Always keeping our family palates in mind, I may make a few changes the next time I make it.  I know that we would like a bit more garlic, for instance.  I will also either skip the cheese or continue to replace the Swiss (my sons deem it too strong and smelly) with a Monterey Jack or some other similarly mild flavored substitute.

Enjoy.  I have been re-inspired to try a new recipe at least twice/month, even if I am only cooking for a small crowd with small appetites.  Perhaps you will be inspired to do the same.

Lentil Barley Soup

¼ cup margarine (I use ghee and not nearly as much)
¾ cup onion, chopped
¾ cup celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp dried rosemary, crushed
½ tsp dried oregano, crushed
¼ tsp pepper
1 28 oz. can tomatoes, coarsely chopped
¾ cup dried lentils, rinsed and drained
¾ cup pearl barley
6 cups water
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
4 oz. shredded Swiss cheese

Melt margarine in a 4 quart Dutch oven or soup kettle. Cook onion, celery and garlic until tender.   Add water, undrained tomatoes, lentil, barley and rosemary oregano and pepper and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.  Add carrots and simmer for 15 minutes more until carrots are just tender.  Ladle into soup bowls and top with cheese.
Makes 5 servings.

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