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Lentils find their way onto so many of those lists of foods we SHOULD be eating but in my house, shoulds are widely ignored. We eat what we crave, and finding ways to make lentils craveable was easier than I ever expected. Over the last year, I've fallen in love with the lowly lentil. From Mujadara (brown lentils, wild rice and caramelized onions) to Moong Dal (yellow lentil soup with carrots and potatoes) to my new favorite Spicy Red Lentil Soup. The pop of fresh herbs and the bite of hot peppers elevate this red lentil soup to a whole new level.

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In early June, we had lunch with friends at Santa Cruz Diner. The place is famous for its huge portions, relatively low prices and the diversity of its menu. This time 'round, I ordered their coconut curry chicken soup and I've been craving another bowl of it it ever since. I found a simple recipe for a coconut curry sauce and used it as base for my soup.

14 oz. coconut milk

1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp Turmeric
¼ tsp sea salt

Toss all four ingredients into a small saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken when it cools. I made my sauce the day before I was going to try the soup and simply refrigerated it overnight. The next day, I poached a chicken breast (simmering, not boiling water, which will tend to make the meat tough) and par-boiled a sliced potato and three carrots, chopped into large chunks. I emptied the container of curry sauce into the soup pot and added the following: 

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I'm not supposed to tell you that this lentil soup (dal) is healthy. Kathy says that doing so will somehow rob it of its yumminess. And it IS yummy. Addictively so. Within 24-hours of whipping up that first pot, I had to make another. A cross between Cream of Chicken and Potato Soup in its comfort-food factor, this Indian staple was an immediate family favorite and will be in your house too. Served on its own or with a full meal, it will steal the show.

Yellow Lentils (Masoor Dal) are high in both protein and fiber and this super-simple soup is a perfect way to do something nice for your body without sacrificing taste. The flavor is mild enough that you can mix it up and add or substitute your favorite flavors. Spinach instead of cilantro or a drizzle of Sriracha on top. The possibilities only end at the bottom of your bowl. And as Kathy would tell you, having gotten over the "Healthy" hurdle, don't knock it until you've tried it and licked your bowl clean. (Recipe Below)

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I have a long list of Swear-By recipes including Gordon’s Ramsay’s F-Word burgers, Alton Brown’s meatloaf and Tyler Florence’s fajitas. I also Swear By my Dad’s chili, my Mom’s homemade bread and my own Chicken Tortilla Soup. I've been making it long enough that I'm not sure where the original recipe came from and now, I’ve tinkered with it enough that I just got used to calling it my own. That said, I make it on those days when I don't want to do anything labor intensive but still want people to show up at the dinner table the first time I call.

This is a great one-pot recipe and something anyone allowed to use knives can prepare. This is the only recipe I use where I actually boil the poultry as the idea of boiled meat is something I've always found off-putting, but here it works just fine and unless I have leftover grilled chicken to throw in, I boil away. I like to throw this soup in a crock pot (after sweating the onions and garlic in a pan) early in the day and let it simmer on low for a couple of hours, but if you don’t have the time to do so, you can whip it up in half an hour easy. [Recipe Follows]

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Dining out is one of my favorite social events, and I would never advocate abandoning it, but life on a shoestring budget means that I can only do so on special occasions. Overall, Americans are eating out less often than we used to, and as a result, many of us have sought out creative ways to bring our favorite restaurant cravings to the kitchen table.

The first dish I ever tried to recreate was a soup from an Italian chain restaurant where I worked briefly as a waitress in my early 20s. I was not a particularly gifted waitress, and I found company’s high-pressure approach to wine sales distasteful. I ended up quitting the job after a month and vowing never to set foot in one of their restaurants again. The only downside to that decision was how much I missed and craved that damn soup.

A few years later, I came across a copycat recipe for their version of the traditional Italian pasta and bean soup (Pasta Fagioli) and I immediately set about mixing up a pot. I have tinkered with the recipe enough that now, I think of it as mine rather than theirs. It has become a family favorite and one of my go-to comfort foods. Now, I keep the basic ingredients for it stocked in the pantry and can whip it up whenever the craving hits. Today, I thought I’d pass that recipe along to you. Feel free to tweak it here and there and make it your own.

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