All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart
hath a continual feast
. ~Proverbs 15:5


Lentil Soup
Tossed Salad OR Gluten-Free Tabbouleh
Leg of Lamb
Baked & Mashed Sweet Potatoes OR Baked Potato OR Divine Mashed Potatoes
Primo Zucchini OR Winter Spinach (Hot) OR Green Beans with Almonds
Fruit & cheese (below)

A seasonal selection of fresh fruit and a variety of cheese is a wonderful way to end a feast dinner and an excellent digestive.  Fresh fruits that always pair well with cheese are apples, oranges, pears, grapes, kiwis and strawberries, but any fresh fruit that you find will work.  A good cheese shop will provide samples and expertise to help you decide what flavors you like best.

Three cheeses and three fruits are a good number for a cheese plate.  Plentiful, appropriate suggestions are smoked gouda (especially good with apples and much more interesting than plain gouda), Havarti, brie (yes, you eat the rind) and goat cheese, examples of a hard, medium-hard, semi0soft and soft cheeses.

Variety is important, so select those that differ in texture and flavor.  A roquefort or bleu cheese has a robust flavor that I wouldn’t suggest for an after-dinner cheese plate.  Cheddar is a little ordinary and, unless you really like it to the exclusion of all others, I would suggest something more interesting.  Those containing spices like jalapeno are generally too harsh to pair well with most fruit after dinner.  Deux de Montagne is a delicate, medium-hard cheese that loves fruit; a Humboldt Fog a goat cheese with a kick of ash running through the center.  Yes, you eat the ash!

Stop by a well-stocked cheese shop and sample some strange and wonderful cheeses to put a distinctive finish to a celebration dinner.

Today’ preparation is Lentil Soup , a quintessential vegan dish perfect for infinite adaptation.  Lentils by themselves are on the bland side of the taste street, and therefore lend themselves to many flavor enhancements.  Since they come in many colors, so it’s fun to select the lentil of choice for optimum visual variety in your meal.

This earthy soup can be served for the opening course of a feast dinner or as a more hearty, casual soup with a sandwich or salad.  You can make it thiner and more delicately-flavored with lemon or ginger, or you can serve a more robust, spicy version with cumin, additional tumeric and ceyenne, cooling it down with yogurt.

Also called daal, lentils are small, flat, dried legumes that come in a rainbow of colors:  yellow, orange, green, brown, black and white.  While hard in their dried form, lentils cook to a tender state relatively quickly, compared to tougher dried beans.  Rich in protein, enzymes and fiber — combined with whole grains — lentils form a complete protein.  They can be sprouted — increasing their nutritive value — and used in salads or mixed with vegetables.  Most commonly, lentils are made into vegetarian soups and stews; eaten alone or served over whole grains like rice or quinoa.  Lentil dishes can be delicate or hearty, savory or spicy, thick or thin.

Even though I’ve given you lots of flavoring options, the soup could not be simpler, which is why it is perfect for playing around with different flavorings and spices.  As with any soup, the longer you cook it the richer it becomes, allowing the deep, subtle notes of clove  It is perfect for reheating.  I’ve used a two-part cooking process that allows for cooking some of the lentils longer to thicken the soup base, then adding more lentils to get the textural differentiation of the individual legumes.  A slow cooker/crock pot is perfect for lentils.  To serve lentils as more of a main dish than a soup, you can simmer with the lid ajar at the end so that more of the cooking liquid evaporates.

Combine half the lentils, vegetables and flavorings in a pot of filtered water, bring to a boil and simmer.  After an hour, add more lentils.   This is executing the preparation.  Easy, shmeasy.  In addition, I’ve given several alternatives to flavoring this lentil soup:  lemon zest, cumin or nutmeg.  Select just one; don’t use all three!  Pick the one you think you’ll like most and try that on for size.  Another time select a different one.  This — rather than the actual cooking — is the essence of cooking.

If you’re cooking with kids — as opposed to a dinner party for ten — maybe you divide the soup into three pots and try them all, providing a sampling of each one, at one dinner or for successive nights.  It reheats beautifully.  Serve Greek yogurt alongside and see the results of its introduction into the soup.  It will cool it (temperature- and spice-wise) as well as dilute the flavor, so you’ll see it’s advantage more for a spicy cumin than for the lemon-flavored flavor.  Adding yogurt to the lemon lentil soup is not a good idea as milk products are not a good combination with lemon when heated.

Three soups:  now there’s a dinner format you don’t  see too often.  But, why not?

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