Lentil Soup

As you may recall from my last post, when I used the random number generator to pick a page in How to Roast a Lamb by Michael Psilakis, I got page 90 and a recipe for Lentil Soup. Overall, this was an easy preparation, not particularly daunting or long. The results were superb (if I do say so myself). The video review is at the bottom of this post, but first I wanted to say a bit about the wine pairing dilemma I faced with this recipe.

As I began to consider possible wine pairings with the Lentil Soup, I was stumped. The velvety mouthfeel and savory/umami of the soup, combined with the smoke from the ham hocks and bacon, were a puzzling combination for me to pair. Luckily, I have friends who are wine experts so I contacted by good friend Cindy Rynning. She has a website called Grape Experiences and has been one of my primary “go to” friends over the years when I need excellent wine pairing suggestions. She also has an impressive list of credentials!

Cindy Rynning, Photo Credit: Rebecca Peplinski – Location: Winestyr Chicago LoungeCindy has completed the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 3 class and passed the exam allowing her to hold the WSET Level 3 Advanced Certificate with Merit. She was listed as one of Exel Wines’ Top 100 Most Influential Wine Bloggers of 2015 and received the awards, Best Wine Blog 2016 – United States, Best Wine Blog 2017 – United States, and Best Wine Blog 2018 – United States from Lux Life International Magazine. In both 2017 and 2018, one of her articles was a Finalist in the Millesima Blog Awards in the Wine Travel category. An email in January 2018 informed her that Grape Experiences was awarded Best Wine Blog 2017 by Drizly. Recently, she was ranked #9 in Feedspot’s ‘Best 100 Wine Blogs, Websites and Newsletters to Follow’ in 2019 and in October and November 2018, she was featured on Good Day Chicago on Fox 32.

(Cindy Rynning (photo above) – Photo Credit: Rebecca Peplinski – Location: Winestyr Chicago Lounge )

For the Lentil Soup recipe, Cindy came up with several stellar wine pairing recommendations. I am listing all of them here, including her notes about each and why she picked them for this particular pairing:

  • 2009 Christian Moreau Père et Fils Chablis – Intense minerally, flinty nose. Crisp, racy acidity and ample bright green fruit flavors. Wonderful focus, definition and flavor concentration. Excellent mid-palate weight and breadth. Very long minerally finish. You just want to make sure there’s a bit of oak in the Chablis – you don’t want it too crisp!
  • Marco Felluga Pinot Grigio (from Collio in Italy) – Broad, rich, flavorful with bright acidity, minerality and citrus notes. I was in Collio at the end of May and Marco Felluga is a top producer – find this wine and give it a try!! My husband and I just had a bottle at dinner in Chicago on Saturday night-amazing!
  • St. Urbans Hof Nik Weis Riesling from Old Vines (slightly sweet) – Intensearomas of petrol, white flesh of ripe peaches, granite, damp stone, pears, lime zest, banana pudding with vanilla wafers, and orange peel. Bright acidity and snappy minerality frame pure and fresh flavors of ripe golden apples, sweet and succulent pears and dried apricots. 
  • By Dr. Thanisch in Germany:  Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett 2016 reflects the goal of the winemaker: to “build a trilogy of fruit, minerality, and acidity”. Elegant and balanced with notes of tropical fruit, berries, and hint of salt, this is a wine everyone will appreciate. Just as flavorful, the Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett 2017 offers bright fruit notes, incredible balance, minerality, and that velvet-like mouthfeel I’ve come to covet in a wine.
  • Lambrusco (it will love the bacon and smoked ham hock!) Ca’ de’ Medici Lambrusco Rosso or whatever else you find! There are plenty – you’re looking for vibrant acidity, red fruit, refreshing, light. 
  • A quality Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley in California or a New Zealand Pinot Noir such as Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir 2015. Generous aromas of luscious red fruit, blueberries, blackberries, violets, and vanilla were a dazzling entry. On the palate, I discovered elegant and sophisticated notes of zesty spice, red and black fruit, and a touch of earth, all framed with bright acidity and gentle tannic structure. The lingering finish was incredibly satisfying. Aged for ten months in French oak barrels, the Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir 2015 is from a vintage year that, by all accounts, was sterling in New Zealand.

In the end, I opted for the most unusual (to me) of all the pairing suggestions – the Ca’ de’ Medici Lambrusco Rosso. Believe me, this is not that horrific stuff that people were quaffing in the 1970s. I won’t mention any brand names here (to avoid a lawsuit) but if you think of the phrase “On ice, so nice” you will know what sort of beverage I am talking about. In reality, Lambrusco has a long and solid history in Italy and if you are lucky enough to sample it there, you will find it to be one of the most versatile and fascinating of the frizzante wines produced in Italy.

Since so many people have old prejudices about Lambrusco, however, I decided to give it a try here in the hope that (1) it would be a great pairing and (2) people might get over their prejudice and go buy a bottle or two to try.

The results were just what I had hoped. The slight sparkle of the wine was a surprising and welcome sensation when put up against the smooth, umami mouthfeel of the soup. The bright fruit and slight sweetness of the wine helped to balance and round out the intense savory, salty, and umami elements of the soup – and Cindy was correct in her assessment of the beautiful interplay between smoky bacon/ham and the wine.

Clearly, Cindy knows her wine! Be sure to check out her website: Grape Experiences.

Here’s the full YouTube video presentation of me cooking (and eating) the Lentil Soup.

Stay tuned for a new cookbook review soon!

Epicuriously Yours,

How to Roast a Lamb

The next installment of my cookbook challenge is not a vintage cookbook. This time, I focus on How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking by Michael Psilakis, published in 2009.

“Life, love, and learning; food, family, and friends. These are the things that I hope to share, from my table to yours. Like the ingredients of each of the recipes in this book, to me, they are intertwined – one cannot exist without the others.”

Those words from page 13 of How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking provide the essence of Michael Psilakis’ philosophy of food and the core of his cookbook. But this is far more than just a cookbook. It’s more of a celebration of the author’s Greek heritage and a love letter to his parents who instilled in him a lifelong passion for sharing the joys of food with others.

chef michael psilakis and tommy henselI met Michael Psilakis in the spring of 2010 when I was covering an event at the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago. I attended a cooking demo and as a gift received an autographed copy of How to Roast a Lamb which had been published just a year before in 2009. I remember thinking that it was a lovely, “coffee table” type of book with a gorgeous cover and beautiful photos. I promptly put it on my bookshelf and, quite frankly, forgot all about it until it popped up as the third installment of my current cookbook challenge.

In 2009 when he published this cookbook, Psilakis had already achieved some of the culinary world’s highest honors. At that time, he was taking the New York restaurant scene by storm with his lauded restaurant Anthos and with his interpretation of a traditional Greek tavern, Kefi. Over the past decade, he has continued to elevate Greek cooking in the culinary world and now runs a restaurant group including two locations of MP Taverna as well as Kefi.

Little, Brown published How to Roast a Lamb in 2009 and it went on to win a number of awards. They then published his second cookbook Live to Eat: Cooking the Mediterranean Way in 2017. Both cookbooks focus not only on food, but on the stories behind the food.

 “Food is our most elemental and basic need. Like the air we breathe, we need it to survive. And yet for me, and so many others, food is also a vehicle for communication.”

That quote on page 224 explains the power of this cookbook – the honest, sincere, and complex stories that stand behind his passion for cooking.

Each chapter opens with a story explaining some aspect of Psilakis’ childhood and how food was the center of his family experience. Each chapter then follows with recipes that connect with the beautiful stories he tells about his life growing up in a tightly-knit, traditional Greek family.  The writing is sincere and emotional. I will fully admit to being hyper-emotional, and I teared up more than once reading some of the more intimate stories and feeling the depth of his love and respect for his parents. I found myself frequently thinking back on my own childhood and wishing I could go back and express more clearly to my parents just how much their love and support meant to me. Psilakis had the good fortune to be able to share those things before his father passed in 2007, even if he was not able to share this cookbook.

As for the recipes, they first appeared a bit daunting to me as I paged through the book. Once I started to read more closely, however, I realized that very few of them are beyond my own skill sets. Psilakis explains the processes of preparation clearly and succinctly, often suggesting substitutions and additions that can make dishes more versatile.

The only exceptions to the “relatively simple to prepare” recipes are the chapters Big Party Cooking and Anthos – The New World. The first of those chapters focuses on cooking for huge numbers of people and the recipes are vast and complex. You know you are in trouble when the first recipe starts with the instruction, “Decapitate the lamb.”

The other chapter contains some of his most celebrated dishes from the elevated restaurant Anthos. He warns readers that those recipes are complicated and require great skill and often equipment that is rarely found in a standard home kitchen. Still, he suggests that readers start with other recipes and then try out at least one of the Anthos dishes as a challenge.

Chef Michael PsilakisAt the end of the book, Psilakis offers a two-page summary that groups recipes by type. Since the book is put together by theme – summer cooking, seafood, game, etc. – each chapter has appetizers, salads, soups, and main courses. This two-page summary helps to group things together so that you can easily find all of the salads or soups or whatever without having to page through the entire book.

One of my favorite portions of the book is the final chapter, The Aegean Pantry. Here is where Psilakis offers recipes for many of the sauces, confits, and dressings that are integral to so many recipes throughout the cookbook.

After having this cookbook sit on my shelf for nearly nine years, I regret not having read it earlier! Some of the recipes are my favorites when dining at Greek restaurants, and now I have the recipes to make them at home.

You will find my video review below, including the (in)famous random number generation portion that will reveal just what recipe I will be challenged to prepare!

My next post will be my assessment of my cooking challenge!

Epicuriously Yours,

PS You can get a sneak preview of the randomly chosen recipe at 9:50 into the video.