Chez Dot, I’m the cook and Mr. Dot cleans up.
But once I year, I go into some sort of tribal memory and clean my kitchen like crazy. Call it spring cleaning, call it cleaning for Passover—what I do goes beyond ritual requirements, I think. Come mid-March, like my mother, my grandmothers, their mothers and so on, I go through the cupboards, take inventory and start cooking with what’s in the cupboards, getting creative about how to get rid of what I have.
While there is ritual justification for cleaning out the cupboards, since religious Jews do not own any leavened or wheat products during Passover, it would be permissible according to Jewish law to set some of these foods aside and “sell” them for the duration of the holiday. But I enjoy taking stock of what I have and cooking to get rid of what’s in my cupboard. I like taking inventory once a year. To be honest, I often shop with good intentions but then end up cooking the same old same old, so if I didn’t do the spring cleaning of my pantry, it would be possible that some day my future grandchildren would find 50 year old lentils in my cupboards. Or 5 different bags of bulgur wheat, each with subtly different levels of coarseness from a forgotten trip to a Middle Eastern market (fine, medium fine, medium coarse, semi-coarse, and coarse).
I also love the creativity of going through the shelves and figuring out what I have and what I will do with something that I never used or that i forgot was ever there. I end up surprising myself and making some foods that take me out of my rut or comfort zone. Last week it was Barley Lentil Soup with Rainbow Chard, hitting the sweet spot of two forgotten pantry items (yes, I had both a bag and a box of barley and a bag of lentils) and some fresh seasonal vegetables. And it was delicious—as my kitchen cleaner (and this week’s photographer), Mr. Dot, agreed.
Barley Lentil Soup with Rainbow Chard
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, chopped
1 ½ cups diced carrots
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 ½ tablespoons of ground cumin
5 cups of vegetable broth
2/3 cup pearl barley
1 14 ½ ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
2/3 cup orange lentils
4 cups packed rainbow chard (or any chard)
2 teaspoons dry dill
Heat oil in large pot over medium high heat. Add leeks and carrots. Sauté until leeks are golden, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and stir 1 minute. Add cumin and stir another 30 seconds. Add broth and add more water if you like and barley. Bring to boil. You may want to add as much as 5 more cups of water. Reduce heat, partially cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Stir in tomatoes with juice and lentils. Cover and simmer until barley and lentils are tender, around 30 minutes.
Add chopped chard to soup and simmer until chard is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in dill. Season soup with salt and pepper, to taste. Thin with more water, if desired.
Serve hot. With bread, this hearty soup can be a meal in and of itself unless you have more things in your pantry you want to get rid of.