I’m hosting book club and we read Love Warrior, which is about the realization that marriage is never what you expect it to be. What are some good things I could serve that are easy to make?
Dear Book Club Host,
The most interesting book club meetings I have ever attended have centered around books that explore marriage. Not great wilderness adventures, not futuristic dystopian thrillers, not romances or comedies that take the reader outside their own world—marriage was the backdrop of the most contentious, emotional, and rewarding discussions among our group. I remember one lunch meeting, discussing Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, where I got the “you must be a monster” stare from at least a few of my (unmarried) friends, when I noted casually that the married characters in the book weren’t nearly as crummy to each other as my spouse and myself had occasionally been. “How could someone in a happy marriage ever act like that to their best friend?” they wanted to know. The answer: more easily than anyone can ever imagine at the onset. In the case of my marriage, I am thankful for ample amounts of forgiveness, short memories, and good senses of humor. Making nice meals for each other doesn’t hurt, either.
In thinking about what to chew on, literally, while chewing on the topic of marriage, one recipe rose to the top: Moroccan Harira Red Lentil Soup. The recipe I use comes straight from the talented Lynne Rossetto Kasper of NPR’s “The Splendid Table,” although I first saw it presented by her on The Chew, where I believe she described the spices within it as “lusty.” Who doesn’t want some lusty in their life?
The first time I made this soup, my husband declared it, “The best soup [he had] ever eaten.” We have had it on countless occasions since then, and it never disappoints. It starts humbly enough, with red lentils, onion, and carrot, but then add the garlic, ginger, tumeric, and cinnamon, and watch things get interesting. With tomato and paprika added to the mix, the bright red soup is inviting and hearty.
The best part of this soup, though, is how it is served—this is especially true for a party or big family meal. Along with the soup itself, sides like cumin, Aleppo pepper, lemon wedges, dates, figs, phyllo dough pastries, and cilantro are served in bowls on the table, so each guest can add sweetness, acidity and spice, to their liking. Just like marriage, no two bowls are the same. For example, I cannot stand cilantro—it tastes like dish soap to me—but I can’t get enough lemon, cumin, and dates in my soup. (Marriage is best if you can still make time for lots of dates, too, right?)
If served in mugs or small bowls, your guests can customize their soups, trying different combinations until they get it just right for them. As the host, you will enjoy the fact that you can make this easy-to-prepare dish ahead of time and refrigerate it, giving the spices a chance to really meld, then bring it back to temperature and place it in a slow cooker for your meeting, letting it tend itself.
And get this: without even trying to be diet-friendly, this dish is vegan (if made with veggie broth, not chicken), dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free and egg-free (adding baklava will introduce some of these ingredients, but it is an optional accompaniment). I’ve never met a recipe so inclusive, truly.
Hope your book club meeting is a great success, and let me know how you like the soup.