My friend Lilly called me yesterday early evening in a panic: our dinner plans at her place were finally confirmed at the last minute AND a couple of extra guests had invited themselves. What were we to do?!
Here is the true tale of a tasty, inexpensive meal prepared in record time, to the delight of both host and guests—including three tall men with a hearty appetite.
The outline of a menu was hatched on the way to the grocery store:
• lentil soup
• pasta (after Lilly mentioned she had a jar of pesto sauce at home)
The shopping trip was expedited in record time:
• 3 cups red lentils, 1 big onion, 3 small potatoes, cumin seeds and lemons for the soup
• greens, 1 cucumber, 1 pink grapefruit, 2 avocados for the salad
Back in Lilly’s kitchen, we immediately put water in a kettle to boil and got to work on the soup: the onion was peeled and cut in big chunks; the potatoes were washed (with a small brush is best) and quartered. By the time the onion bits had been stirred a couple of times in a splash of olive oil at the bottom of a big pot, the kettle was whistling. We then added the potatoes and stirred them with the onion so as to give it a last chance to turn gold, before pouring the piping hot water into the pot. All that was left to do was season with salt, pepper and the cumin seeds (2 big tablespoons). We could then reduce the heat and let the soup simmer while preparing the salad.
Meanwhile, the festive evening had already started. Lilly had displayed some delicious cheese and olive bread for everyone to nibble on, and poured some wine for cooks and guests.
The salad was whipped up in a moment. The greens were thrown in a big bowl and the cucumber peeled and diced over them. The longest task (about 5 minutes) involved preparing the grapefruit: peeling the thick skin off, opening the fruit like an orange, then lifting the white translucent skin off each section with a small knife. The effort is always so worth it though: grapefruits are delicious and they’re SO good for you! The avocados were cut open lengthwise, the stone removed with the length of a large knife (I learned my lesson and stopped using the tip of a knife after stabbing my hand years ago), each half sliced by gently running the knife along parallel lines inside the leathery skin. The buttery flesh of the avocado is then lifted off with a spoon. The dressing would be added at the very last minute.
Our dinner was almost ready!
While pasta was cooking, Lilly had diced a couple of tomatoes she had brought back from her cousin’s garden and marinated them in balsamic vinegar. They would taste great with the pasta. She also had found a couple of small zucchinis in her fridge. Thinly sliced and sautéed in olive oil with salt and pepper, they would make a great addition to the pesto pasta dish.
Meanwhile, the soup was ready. In a short time, the red lentils had turned into a thick, creamy broth. I transferred the pieces of onion and potatoes I could fish with a slotted spoon into a blender, added some of the liquid and blended it all into a smooth cream. A couple of times, I poured the mixture back into the pot, stirred and transferred a few ladles back into the blender to refine the creaminess of the soup. Now was also the time to add salt, pepper and cumin to taste. Et voilà!
Finally, the last finishing touches were brought to the pasta: draining off the water, then mixing the pasta with the pesto sauce, the tomatoes and the zucchinis.
Before we knew it, we were all sitting down for a feast: steaming bowls of lentil soup, fragrant with cumin and enlivened by a drizzle of lemon juice; a big, vibrant bowl of salad, leaves glistening with olive oil and grapefruit juice, offering a perfect balance between the sweet tanginess of the citrus and the nutty taste of the avocados, between the crunchiness of the cucumber and the softness of the grapefruit. Last but not least, the aroma of the pesto was enough to get our taste buds excited with anticipation, as the fusilli pasta held the promise of a most satisfying reward at the end of this long, busy weekend.
PS. I don’t have any pictures of this meal to share with you today but I’ll make up for it next time.