Friday, March 25, 2011

Nourishing and Pure

Last weekend, I attended a beautiful wedding. The weather was beautiful. The bride and groom were beautiful. And the loving, merry, big-group-hug vibe that circulated and intensified over the course of the weekend (and lingers into this week)...well, it was beautiful.

In preparation for this wedding (specifically, hunting down a not-too-silly shower game), I happened to come across a compilation of wedding vows from various faiths. The vows were all lovely to peruse, but the seven promises spoken in a traditional Hindu marriage ceremony caught my attention. Whereas my wedding vows contained abstractions like "partner on your path," these statements enumerate, with a nice specificity, the key elements of a happy home and a strong relationship.

The first one covers something I consider critical to a long-lasting partnership: good food. In the versions I found, the promise reads something like this: "Let us take the first step to provide for our household a nourishing and pure diet, avoiding those foods injurious to healthy living." In other words, "Let's eat well, my darling dear!"

Now, I am going to allow you to make your own judgments about what constitutes healthy living. To my way of thinking, it would be hurtful to call an innocent cookie injurious, especially when it's made with love, as homemade ones always are. But even I need a reminder sometimes that there are many foods out there that are quite good despite lacking the beautiful, golden, crispy-chewy essence produced by the blessed union of sugar, butter, and flour. (Sigh...)

And this blog gets to feeling a little sluggish sometimes, what with all the sweets. (Groan...) So she and I are are de-toxing this week with my favorite health food: soup.

Okay, this is really more of a stew--an easy, satisfying one-dish supper. The first time I had it was years ago, in preparation for another wedding, at a farmhouse where a group of us had gathered to celebrate with the bride-t0-be. Prepared by the host's mother, the robust, subtly spicy concoction made for a memorable lunch.

It didn't cross my mind at the time that by eating a hearty and healthful meal together we were reminding the bride not only of the loving community standing behind her but also of the way in which good food nourishes relationships. Healthy living, indeed.



Farmhouse Lentil-Barley Stew
I don't know the source for this recipe. The photocopy I was given (now crinkled and spattered from long use) shows that it came from a newspaper, but that is all I know. This stew is best enjoyed with a crusty bread and a flavorful cheese such as parrano or manchego. Oh--and a glass of red wine doesn't hurt either.
>Serves 6

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 medium carrots, diced (about 2 cups)
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp cumin
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup barley, rinsed
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
plain yogurt, for garnish (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (about 8 minutes). Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add cumin and cook, stirring, for a minute longer. Add the lentils, broth, tomatoes, brown sugar, and cinnamon stick, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the barley and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the parsley and add salt and pepper to taste. Top each serving with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of parsley if you like.