Speaking, as I have done twice already, of things you may be surprised to learn you can do, I washed a chicken. Not one I was planning to roast; I washed the chicken you may recall has been enjoying some spa time indoors thanks to her present health condition. She has been indoors with us for quite a while now, long enough to have greeted my friend Adair, who stopped by last week to deliver some of her homegrown roasting chickens for my freezer. You may imagine that Adair wondered why a farmer, or even a “farmer,” would keep a chicken in precarious health lingering on, outside the soup pot and well inside the boundaries that normally exclude her ilk (namely, the front door.) You would be right. She wondered. I couldn’t tell her much. We raise some animals that get eaten, but none of them are chickens. The chickens have names and after their egg-laying days are over, they retire on our nickel here where they hatched. We eat chicken, but we eat other people’s chickens. It takes all kinds to make the great world spin, I suppose.
Anyway, Tippy Tina had taken on a certain odor, as one will when one lives in a box and sometimes cannot stand up straight, and if she was going to stay indoors it was time for a shampoo. She is the second chicken I have washed, and though you may be surprised, as I said, to learn that chickens can be washed, you will perhaps be more surprised to learn that they like it. How surprised will you be to learn that the complimentary blow-dry offered in the cooler months (so she shouldn’t get a chill, you know, and maybe die or something) is the chicken’s favorite part? I imagined the chickens would cower in terror of the blowdryer. In fact, they work it like runway stars, turning this way and that to make sure you get all the areas that need attention. I learned this on the first chicken I washed, and now that I have a sample of two in my study, I feel confident saying you can generalize.
Maybe you stopped reading up there when you learned I had bathed a chicken. That’s fine, because it really has nothing to do with today’s post, other than the thin thread of Things You Can Do Yourself.
What I meant to tell you about was the soup you can make with the whey that results when (notice I do not say “if,” in this context, because you need to make the cheese to make this soup) you make ricotta. I think you can use the whey in place of broth in any number of soups and be happy--potato soup comes to mind, especially. But what I made was lentil soup, because I love lentil soup. The whey doesn’t make it creamy, and therefore too rich and heavy to be enjoyed in quantity (I always like the idea and the flavor of a cream soup, but can’t eat very much before wishing I had stopped sooner.) The whey just makes it more savory and full-bodied, as well as a nutritional powerhouse, and more than what you can do with the whey left after you make the cheese, it is reason enough to make the cheese in the first place.
lentil soup with whey
2T olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
I large carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
¼ c tomato paste (preferred) or ½ c ground peeled canned tomatoes
3t pure ancho chile powder
3 c small green French lentils, or small brown Spanish lentils
whey from 1 gallon of milk that became ricotta
salt to taste
1 medium potato, diced
1 large carrot, chopped
¾ c pearled barley
3 handfuls of fresh spinach or kale leaves, chopped or torn coarsely
grated cheese for serving
Preheat the oven to 325. In a large dutch oven, sauté the finely chopped vegetables in the olive oil until they soften. Add the spices and tomato paste and stir for a moment over medium heat. Now add the lentils and the whey and bring to a gentle boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and put it in the oven for about an hour, stirring occasionally if you are around to do so. I think you could also do this in a slow cooker, but I don’t have one, so I use the oven. Cooking them slowly and covered produces a far superior soup to simmering on the stove. I don’t know why.
If you have time, let the soup cool at this point. Another mystery of lentil and bean soups is that cooling and then reheating improves the outcome enormously, which is why making a large pot at the start of the week will serve you well. If you don’t have time to let it rest, it will still be tasty. Season with salt to taste, and if you like, add the diced vegetables and barley and simmer on the stovetop until they are tender, and the texture of the soup pleases you, and then add the kale or other greens. It’s tasty without any of these things added, too. Serve with cheese grated on top, and maybe bread for dunking, and a nice big salad.