Friday, January 11, 2013

Winter Lentil Surprise Soup (Soul Care Dinners)

My recent readings and adventures in prayer (I am currently reading Dr. William Parker's Prayer Can Change Your Life, and there's more about this below) have been accompanied by some culinary experiments. Since its winter time and the days are short and a bit cold soups dominate. I am on the hunt for low-glycemic, anti-inflammatory, low-cholesterol, and low-fat meals that will also meet the nutritional needs of my family in the best possible way. Believe me, this is not an easy task but I am loving the meal-planning and magic of cooking in the Kitchen of Grace. The Winter Lentil Surprise creation was made in honor of my mother who went home to the Lord on this day, a long time ago. Filled with lentils, vegetables, asian mushrooms, butternut squash, and sweet corn, its sweet aroma filled our home. Using organic produce, the freshest possible ingredients, and in unexpected combinations that interact well with each other, I am finding, really makes a difference to all the senses. Mmm, YUM!

Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hr 30 minutes

1 cup of lentils (I used green lentils)
3 carrots (sliced thinly as rounds)
2 celery stalks (sliced thinly)
1 small red onion (you can substitute ordinary yellow or white onion, sweet Vidalia onion will probably be better; diced )
1 whole tomato (thinly sliced; you can use more perhaps even a whole can of diced tomatoes)
1 can of fresh cut sweet kernel corn (I used Del Monte 15 1/4 oz including the juice)
1 pkg of bunashimeji mushrooms (look for them in your local Asian store and these are way more nutritious than the button, portabello or crimini mushrooms which are more commonly available in the regular grocery stores; cut the bottom off and toss them whole into the pot, they will break apart in the cooking or you can break them with a spoon; the tiny mushrooms look beautiful and are flavorful too.)
1/2 Butternut squash (baked)
1 tspn (or 1 clove minced) garlic
1 tspn salt (a healthier option is to use 1/4 to 1/2 cup lemon juice - the juice of half of an Improved Meyer lemon)
1/2 tspn fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tspn thyme
1/2 tspn basil
1/4 tspn curry powder

Set the lentils in a pan and fill it with 2 cups of water. Allow the water to boil, turn the heat down and let it simmer and cook over medium or low heat for another 15 - 20 minutes. Watch the pot to make sure the water doesn't fully evaporate and the lentils don't get burned.

While the lentils are simmering, slice the butternut squash lengthwise and place it in a baking dish with 1/2 inch water, skin side up. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

Slice the carrots, onions, and celery.

Add 4 cups of water to the cooked lentils and all the sliced vegetables and spices except the mushrooms and squash. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes or so until the carrots are soft. Add the corn. Add mushrooms and cook another 10-20 minutes.  Scoop spoonfuls of the baked butternut squash into the soup. Add the lemon juice. Serve.

I served this soup for dinner along with grilled Aidell's Chicken and Apple mini sausages and Boca Burgers Original Chicken patties on whole wheat buns with mayo and mustard. I've never had a soup disappear this fast!

Nutritional Analysis
The Winter Lentil Surprise Soup is an easy way to get the daily serving of vegetables recommended. Lentils, the hidden star of this soup (although by the time you add all the other vegetables you can barely see the lentils!) provide the protein and iron, even calcium. Celery is brain food (you know that, right?) while the carrots, squash, corn, and bunashimeji mushrooms add taste, visual appeal, and healing as they are loaded with antioxidants and vitamins including Vitamin D! The colors of the soup though are more harvest-like with the rich orange and yellow greens.

The Story behind the Soup:
Some of the prayer principles discovered by Dr. Parker's Prayer Therapy group in their 9 month long experiment are reflected in my Winter Surprise Soup. The green Lentils stand for honest prayer; it also reminded me that my mother was extremely honest to the point of being blunt :). Prayer should be honest - God knows our hearts and subconscious. The sunny yellow Corn reflect positive prayer; God wants us to choose life, Jesus came to give us abundant life, and Holy Spirit fills us with love, joy, peace, all that is good. Why then do we focus on the negative instead of the positive when we pray? The Celery stands for the regular practice of prayer while the Carrots remind that surrender is another key component of prayer; there's not much point in asking God to give a new heart if I am very comfortable with my old one and don't really want change. The Butternut Squash stands for prayer that is received; Dr. Parker and his group found that the prayer request was answered but the prayer-er had not received the gift/answer and kept asking! Finally, the Bunashimeji Mushrooms are for contemplative, listening prayer. We must learn to listen to God when we pray. Not just talk and make requests but really listen to His response. Summarizing, here's how to pray:
Lentils - Pray self-honestly - "This first step requires only a willingness to see what we honestly entertain in our mental household." p. 56
Corn - Pray positively - "Negative prayer will produce negative results." p. 111
Celery - Pray regularly - "Prayer must be made a regular and regulative part of life." p. 105
Carrots - Make prayer an act of surrender - "we not only offer the vehicle of our lives, our virtues, talents, will, but our burdens and demons as well." p. 107; "we surrender, then, our old selves, our old way of thought and action." p. 110 
Butternut Squash - Receive the gift of answered prayer after you've prayed for it a few times - "Over and over we proved that whatever we had need of, whether it was harmony, forgiveness, courage, abundance, friendship, health, if we would affirm it and accept it within it would become a part of our outward experience." p. 119
Bunashimeji mushrooms - Practice listening to God during prayer- "We found a second facet not to be overlooked in receptive prayer. While accepting changed attitudes and changed conditions, we could go a step further. In receptive prayer inspiration, guidance, creative ideas, the correct solution to apparent problems, all were awaiting us within." p. 120.

Parker conducted his prayer experiments over a period of nine months at the University of Redlands in the 1950s. Based on these experiments he actually names the last five steps above as the Four Laws of Prayer (Law of Regular Prayer, Act of Surrender, Positive and Receptive). Chapter 9 (p. 126) of his report concludes, "We found this method  dependable and repeatable, which academically and scientifically indicate an underlying principle. We proved that prayer does work just as surely today as two thousand years ago, and so anyone who is willing to make the effort can change their direction and follow this path to more abundant life."

Source:  Parker, William R., and St. Johns, Elaine. Prayer Can Change Your Life: Experiments and Techniques in Prayer Therapy. New York, Cornerstone Library (Simon and Schuster), 1957.

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