Abra Berens’ Lentil Soup & Cornbread

Recipes from her new cookbook, Grist

Abra Berens is a chef, former farmer, writer, and Zingerman’s veteran. Her latest cookbook—Grist: a Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes—is just that, practical. It breaks down 29 different types of grains and legumes with easy cooking techniques and over 300 recipe variations to make whole grains a delicious part of your everyday repertoire. (You’ve hopefully heard how much we love whole grains!)

As Berens explains:

Like Ruffage before it, I wrote this book to continue to celebrate and demystify these pantry staples. We have all heard over and over that we need to eat more whole grains and plant-based proteins but that too often comes with a sense of drudgery. Shelf stable pulses are great ways to showcase seasonal vegetables and never need to be same old same old.

And, luckily for us, she’s shared two recipes from her book with us. Scroll on to get her recipes for a garlic-lemon-parsley sauce-topped lentil soup and an all-corn cornbread that are just right for tucking into on these cold January days. (But don’t forget to try the cornbread again, as written, come peach season!)

Photograph by EE Berger.

Lentil Soup with Cumin, Garlic, Lemon + Pine Nuts

This soup is an amalgamation of my favorite lentil soups I’ve had over the years. My friend Hitoko was the first person I knew to combine lentils and cumin—and serve it for breakfast. I had a delicious lentil soup, topped with pine nuts, with dear friends Nikki and Karl at a small restaurant in Red Hook a couple of years ago. The garlic-lemon-parsley sauce is my own, but I’m sure it came from someone else along the way. I like to do the partial blending too, but it’s not a must. I hope you’ll take this amalgam of lentil soups from friends and make it your own.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp cumin seed
  • 1 small onion (about 4 oz [120 g]), thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • 1 cup [250 ml] white wine
  • 8 oz [225 g] brown lentils (other colors will work, but the texture will be different)
  • 8 cups [2 L] chicken stock or water
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • ½ bunch parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 lemon (about 1 1/2 oz [45 ml]), zest and juice
  • ½ cup [125 ml] olive oil plus more as needed
  • 4 oz [120 g] pine nuts or sunflower seeds toasted

Instructions

  • In a large pot, heat a glug of olive or neutral oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seed and briefly fry, about 30 seconds. Add the onions and 1 Tbsp of salt and stir to coat. Lower the heat and sweat the onions until soft, about 7 minutes.
  • Add the white wine and cook until reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Add the lentils and briefly toast, about 3 minutes.
  • Add the stock and increase the heat to bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook until the lentils are very tender, about 40 minutes.
  • Mince and smash the garlic with a pinch of salt to make a rough paste. In a medium bowl, combine the garlic, parsley, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, pine nuts, and big pinch of salt to make a very lemony, oily sauce. Reserve.
  • When the lentils are cooked through, blend briefly with an immersion/stick blender to make it a loosely chunky, slightly thickened soup. Adjust the seasoning as desired.
  • To serve, portion into serving bowls and top with a heavy slick of the sauce.

Notes

Reprinted from Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes by Abra Berens with permission by Chronicle Books, 2021. Photographs © EE Berger.
overhead view of cornbread with peaches
Photograph by EE Berger

All-Corn Cornbread with Jalapeños, Peaches + Ricotta

I’ve got a few Andrews in my life, and several of them influenced this recipe. I got the cornbread recipe from my friend Andrew Brix and use it as a regular staple for meals with guests who eat gluten free. The jalapeño peaches come from one of my first food teachers, Andrew Wilhelm, in our time together at Zingerman’s Deli. Andrew Harris (along with Wes Rieth) grows the heirloom corn at Granor Farm that is now my go-to cornmeal. Thanks, Andrews.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups [480 g] cornmeal
  • 6 Tbsp [90 g] butter or lard or chicken fat
  • ½ tsp salt plus a pinch
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • 2 medium peaches about 12 oz [340 g], sliced into wedges
  • 1 jalapeño, sliced into very thin rings, seeds removed if you like it milder
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp vanilla paste or extract
  • 6 oz [180 g] ricotta

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 450°F [230°C]. Put a medium ovenproof frying pan in the oven to preheat.
  • Put half of the cornmeal (1 ½ cups [240 g]) into a heatproof bowl.
  • In a saucepan, add the butter and the ½ tsp of salt to 2 cups [500 ml] of water and bring to a boil.
  • Pour the boiling water mixture into the bowl of cornmeal. Whisk together and let stand for 1 minute.
  • Add the remaining cornmeal and the baking powder and egg to the cornmeal batter and whisk together.
  • Remove the frying pan from the oven and pour in the batter. Bake for about 30 minutes until the bread has a golden crust on top and a knife comes out clean when inserted in the center. Turn out onto a cooling rack.
  • Combine the peaches, jalapeños, sugar, vanilla, and the pinch of salt and let sit for 10 minutes to macerate.
  • To serve, cut the cornbread into wedges, dollop with the ricotta, and top with a hefty spoonful of the peach mixture.

Notes

Reprinted from Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes by Abra Berens with permission by Chronicle Books, 2021. Photographs © EE Berger.

Hungry for more?

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Zingerman's Bakehouse
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Opened in 1992, Zingerman’s Bakehouse brings traditionally baked breads and pastries to food lovers in Ann Arbor and across southern and central Michigan. We also reach Zingerman’s customers around the country through Zingerman’s Mail Order. Founded by Frank Carollo and now run by Amy Emberling (an original Bakehouse staffer), the Bakehouse also has an onsite Bakeshop, which sells baked goods to retail customers as well as BAKE!, a teaching kitchen designed for home bakers of all different skill levels, from those who have never touched a measuring spoon in their life to those who feel pretty accomplished and want to learn more. We host action-filled, fun and informative bread and pastry baking classes.

Abra Berens in front of a cornfield
Abra Berens
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Abra Berens is a chef, former farmer, and writer.

She believes that the meals we eat should change with the seasons and that their ingredients should come from nearby. She strives to make simple, delicious meals that champion the region.

She started cooking at the storied Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, MI. She then went on to train in the garden-focused kitchen at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork, Ireland. In 2009 she co-founded Bare Knuckle Farm in Northport, MI, where she farmed and cooked for 8 years. After years of farming, she returned to the kitchen full time, opening and helming the café at Local Foods in Chicago, IL. In 2017, she left her Executive Chef position to return to the mitten state to join the team at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, MI, where she combines her love of farms and restaurants to create one-of-a-kind dinners on the farm celebrating the best of South West Michigan’s diverse agriculture.

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