Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cooking Egyptian Lentil Soup with Rachel 

Once again I frittered away an evening I should have spent blogging. Doing what, you ask? (go ahead, ask, I want you to.)

I was cooking Egyptian Lentil Soup with my 9 year old daughter, Rachel. Why? (I'm just going to assume you asked.)

Primarily because Rachel was hungry. That's probably a good enough reason by itself. The fact that she was patient enough to wait the time necessary to finish cooking something, and to contribute to its preparation is testimony to her love of Egyptian Lentil Soup. Not that it is particularly time-consuming or difficult to prepare -- but come on, we're talking about a hungry nine-year-old here!

Of course, as is so often the case in parenting, I had ulterior motives in going through the effort of cooking soup with my daughter when there was frozen pizza in the freezer (and not just that I was saving the frozen pizza for myself for later).

Cooking with my kids, especially with only one of them at a time, and MOST especially when they are not whining or breaking things, is a great way to spend some quality, low-intensity time together where the activity leaves plenty of room for easy conversation. And that easy conversation can be very valuable. You might even learn why Johnny Bravo is superior to MoJo JoJo, or why that pot of chopped up tofu is sitting, uncooked, in a pool of soy sauce on the stove top (to cheer up Ima who had a hard day at work).

Another hidden benefit of father-daughter cooking that I actually learned from my wife's mother-daughter cooking experiments is that so long as you don't cook the standard single serving from the recipe, there is a lot of subtle yet rewarding math practice involved in multiplying every ingredient by 2 or 3 or 5. Especially if the recipe calls for 2 and 3/4 of something -- I'm going to wait another year or two before taking on such gourmet challenges though.

The last benefit of cooking Egyptian Lentil Soup with my hungry daughter was to help give her a bit of a childhood nutritional legacy I never really had. I grew up on a diet derived primarily from restaurants, fast food, and as much junk food as I could ferret from the locked cupboard before my mom discovered we'd learned how to pick the lock. If someone wanted to counter the images of Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me" -- the documentary in which a man ate nothing but McDonald's food for a month and ended up with serious health problems before the month was over -- they would have filmed my adolescent and college years, and then simply noted that I am still alive today.

I could catalog the many nutritional atrocities I committed against my own body, but going over the details again would probably just make me hungry, so I'll spare you the details of M&M binges and super-jumbo personal pizzas. It's a good thing I exercised a lot during those years, or my eyelids would now be so rotund I wouldn't be able to lift them and I'd have to blog blind.

Lest this seem like an ode to all the junk food I've loved before, let me say that as a result of all that, I was probably in my late twenties before I was ready to give up eating like a nine year old. It's only been in these later years that I've expanded my palette enough to even try things I'd never considered before. For instance, I now know that Indian food is actually good, despite coming in tiny portions and not generally being served with ketchup. I've also learned exotic vegetable skills -- like the fact that I can now tell the difference between brocolli and cauliflower (cauliflower is yuckier).

As you can probably tell, I've got a lot of ground to make up with my kids if I'm to save them from growing up thinking ice cream is an entree, going down that same rocky road I travelled. Cooking Egyptian Lentil Soup, as well as Indian food -- and yes, even broccoli -- is one way I hope to help them develop their own palettes for the kind of foods that are actually good for a body.

In case you want to try it, here is the recipe for Egyptian Lentil Soup. Garnish with a bag of peanut M&M's and a small pizza for a well-rounded nutritional experience. Or just add some cilantro on top, your call.

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: