Don’t Tell Me What to Do (Lentil Soup)

This recipe says: "I'll do what I want don't even try to stop me."
Publish date:
October 12, 2011
cooking, food, soup

I wish sometimes that people would just leave me alone. I don’t know if it’s my height (I'm about eight inches under average here) or what, but people seem to have no compunction about bossing me around lately.

Last week, it started getting cold and so I brought out my winter hat and everywhere I went people poked at that thing and pulled it off of me and asked, “What will you do when it gets even colder?” As though I have to save being warm for special occasions.

“Put on more clothes,” I said, pulling my hat back on and picturing myself in a Russian-looking fur and one of those hats the Buckingham guards wear.

"No, no. You should take it off before it's too late," they all agreed.

Sometimes people can be so bossy.

There are a lot of Turkish immigrants in Holland. Their presence combined with a dip in the Dutch economy has given rise to a major anti-immigration sentiment and this country’s version of the Tea Party, led by a man with a horrible bouffant named Geert Wilders whose fear-mongering conservative platform is possibly even more cracked-out and terrifying than our own crazy conservatives’. And this place is Socialist. So it can happen anywhere.

Anyway, I love Turkey and am thrilled there are so many Turkish people around where I live, which prevents the town from feeling too much like Children of the Corn. I went to a Turkish bakery the other day (a whole next level of deliciousness) and had some red lentil soup and it brought me back to my 24th year when, uncertain of what else to do, I briefly bartended in Istanbul and this soup was all I could afford.

But I never minded then because this stuff is tasty. So tasty and comforting that when I ate it by myself in cafés in Istanbul, dipping soft pieces of warm bread into a bowl while reading a good book, I would forget for a few moments the bar owner who tried repeatedly to take me home with him and the near-constant feeling that I was totally alone and had no idea what the hell I was doing with my life.

Anyway, I’m cold and I will do what I have to do stay warm. In Turkey, this soup is called Mercimek Corbasi, but in homage to my feelings when I made it, and to the pies in the late Adrienne Shelly’s amazing and heartbreaking film Waitress, I will call it “Don’t Tell We What to Do Lentil Soup.”

Because lentil soup is so nice it doesn’t deserve to be bossed around and neither do I.

Don’t Tell Me What to Do Lentil Soup

Because I can’t get any measuring cups here -- “Americans really measure with something called ‘cups’,” my boyfriend recently asked me, chuckling in disbelief. Will the hilarity of American measurements never end? -- I use a bowl and a coffee mug as my measuring devices. Honey Badger don’t give a shit. The whole point is that you can’t really screw this up because you can always just keep adding things until it tastes good.


1 yellow onion

2 carrots

1 lemon

1 1/2 cups (or one large coffee mug) of Red lentils

Around six mugs of vegetable stock (or a bullion cube and some water)

Chunk of butter

Salt, pepper, spices

Soak a medium-sized bowl of lentils overnight (I know this takes some planning and sometimes you want some “Don’t tell me what to do lentil soup” right now, so if you don’t soak it’s OK, you’ll just keep them simmering in the pot a while longer.)

Chop up your onion and carrot and fry them up in a big chunk of butter until they are soft. Add these to your broth with softened (or not) lentils.

Let this all simmer down for about 45 minutes and then blend it all together with a hand blender until it's smooth. If you don’t have one of those, you can stick it by batches into a food processor. If you don’t have either appliance you can just frantically jab at it with something flat.

Sprinkle with salt, pepper, cumin, paprika and whatever else you like. I like mine with ground Thai chili, because I think at some point I may have burnt off the taste buds that register subtle flavors with all of the spicy food I eat. You can also add some milk or half and half if you want it to be creamier.

Then dish it up and squeeze in some lemon, maybe a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt, a sprig of mint or parsley if you want to get fancy, and find some nice crackers or bread to dip in it.

Then go off and be alone somewhere you can enjoy your soup and no one will mess with you. Or share. Whatever you want. I’d never tell you what to do.