On the day after Thanksgiving, my mother would always put the turkey frame up to boil with lentils and aromatic vegetables to make her very simple and delicious turkey lentil soup. For years I ate this good soup the week after Thanksgiving, usually with crisply broiled Kosher frankfurters (for their beefy, garlicky flavor, rather than for any reasons of observance) on rye bread.
The coming of age allows us the freedom to experiment, branch out and move away from our family traditions or at least play with different versions of them, exploring the exotic, coming to know for ourselves what we like. Although I always make soup of some kind or another, most of my adult life I've made any and all kinds of turkey soup -- other than turkey lentil, that is -- on the day after Thanksgiving. I've made turkey vegetable, turkey rice and turkey barley, as well as other variations too numerous to list and too far away in time to remember. And it's not that I don't make lentil soup -- I make lentil soups all the time. Sometimes I make a Spanish lentil soup with chorizo and spinach. Then there's the mulligatawny, made with red lentils and coconut milk. I love to make aromatic Moroccan harira with lamb and chickpeas as well as lentils; or there's a vegetarian lentil that I'm fond of, scented with cumin and copious quantities of garlic and mint. But it's been a very long time since I made my mother's turkey lentil soup.
This is the time of year when my own particular brand of seasonal affective disorder sets in. I spend some time dwelling in the past, and sometimes I seem to get stuck there, at least for a bit. I'm nostalgic for the way things were, in what seems like the long ago and far away. I'm no longer a child, anticipating the holidays. We grow up, we grow older, we lose people we love. Those we're close to get married, and start spending their holidays in other family circles. Friends move to other parts of the country or become estranged; beloved elders die.
A good part of yesterday and a fair portion of today were laced with these broody, melancholic moments. But each time I was ready to sink under the weight of my own thoughts, strong arms wrapped themselves around me and G said, simply, "I'm here." That was all I needed in order to remember that indeed, I have a lot for which to be truly thankful. And so suddenly I knew how to live inside some of my sorrow, the grief that never really goes away. It seemed time, today, to come full circle, and invoke the spirit of my mother, five years gone, by making her traditional post-Thanksgiving soup. I didn't even have to leave the house -- everything I needed was right here. It was clearly meant to be.
The soup is now made, and waiting in the refrigerator for tomorrow's dinner, to be eaten with crisply grilled Kosher frankfurters and rye bread. I've changed just a couple things -- I tend to make the stock from the frame first, and then make the soup on that. And I add leeks, and some shallots too. But it's more or less the same recipe and really, the soup tastes almost exactly like hers, enough that it will bring her into the room with us as we eat it.
Strong arms are wrapped around me as we make plans for the holiday traditions we've begun to evolve over the past few years -- Christmas Eve with my favorite cousin and her family; Christmas breakfast with my father; Christmas dinner and a movie, perhaps, with dear pals Nathalie and Josh. New Year's Eve will be à deux, as has always been our custom together, and maybe this year we'll host a New Year's Day fest. Making plans always cheers me up. And really, how sad can I be when I'm eating leftover pumpkin soufflé, maple pecan and caramel apple crumble pies, all topped with homemade cognac-scented whipped cream?
Turkey Lentil Soup
1 turkey frame with bits of meat still clinging to the bones
10 cups of water, or enough to cover the frame
1 carrot, chunked
1 small whole onion
4 or 5 sprigs of parsley
1 stalk celery, broken into 3 or four pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
a pinch of fresh or dried thyme
a pinch of fresh or dried sage
3 cups lentils, green/brown, red, or a combination
3 leeks, cleaned and sliced
1 large onion, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and in small chunks
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine all the stock ingredients, and boil for about an hour or an hour and a half, until you have a rich turkey stock. Strain. Pick the turkey meat off the frame, and reserve. Put the stock back in the pot
with all the other soup ingredients. Boil gently until lentils are very tender and partially dissolving into the soup, at least 45 minutes, but perhaps as much as an hour and a half.. Give an immersion blender a quick spin through one corner of your soup to thicken it up a bit. Don't puree it all -- you want the lovely texture of the lentils and vegetables, too. Add the picked turkey meat back into the soup. Taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve with grilled frankfurters -- or maybe just some good bread and cheese and a salad.