Greek Lentil Soup: a hug in a bowl

I learned to make this from my mother who learned from her mother, I imagine.  My mother died of cancer when she was 47.  I was 18.  There were many things about her and her life that I never learned, which is why I assume that her mother showed her how to make this soup.

I also learned how to make mayonnaise from my mother, by drizzling in the olive oil very, very slowly.  She'd make the mayonnaise for her Russian Salad from a recipe in her Greek cookbook.  I still have this book and there are so many things in here which make me laugh--the French recipes, yes, written in Greek; the measurements like "one coffee cup full" or "one glass full", which make me wonder WHICH coffee cup or which glass?  You just cannot standardize Greeks, I guess!    My sister and I, both, were there every time she cooked and this book was there too.  Having people over to dinner was an exciting time, filled with memories of my mother.  I cannot tell you how vivid these memories are or what they mean to me even today!  

I may not know my mother as well as I would like, for what does an 18-year old girl pay attention to? I do, however, still remember this cooking time she spent with her daughters, me and Antonia; This is one reason that food and cooking is so meaningful to me--it connects me with my mother.

This soup is such a comforting meal. It's loaded with good memories and at serving time it's topped off with extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and a couple of Kalamata olives, It soothes and caresses the body and soul.  Trust me--even though this is a completely vegetarian meal, you will not miss the meat!

1 whole onion, scored to middle (remove after cooking & before serving)*
3 cloves garlic, peeled, mashed and chopped
1 (28 oz) can tomatoes and juice (crush tomatoes)
2 bay leaves
1/3 cup olive oil
salt, to suit your taste
1 T black pepper
1  (1 lb) bag brown lentils

*You can use 1 finely chopped onion, if you prefer.

To dress:
red wine vinegar
extra-virgin olive oil
Kalamata olives

Pour oil in pot and heat, add garlic and sauté lightly.  *If using chopped onions, saute with the garlic. Add the lentils and stir to coat well with oil.  Continuing to stir, add bay leaves, tomatoes, onion, salt & pepper and enough water to cover lentils plus 3-4 cups more.  Bring to a boil and lower to a medium heat for the duration of the cooking process, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking/burning. You may need to add more water during the cooking.

When lentils are tender, bring soup to boiling and reduce until liquid to solids ratio is about 2 to 1.  It is very important to stir often and to watch carefully during this period--sticking & burning can happen easily. 

To serve, ladle into bowls, drizzle with 1 tablespoon each of extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar.  Top off with three olives.

Serve with crusty French bread and a nice chunk of Feta cheese on the side.  No appetizer, no knife and fork, no fine china and no dessert—just a huge warming hug in a bowl!