Aletta’s time tunnel soup


Aletta’s time tunnel soup

ALETTA LINTVELT ponders friendships and people who feed you when you hit rock bottom.


I WAS fired over an intercom once. The type that is installed at the front gate so someone inside the building can talk to you while you're standing in the street.

I arrived at my new, three-day-old job in the morning, and when I pressed the button the very civil and nice man told me over the intercom that they didn't have a chair for me.

I asked him if they would have a chair for me the next day. Never, he said. We will never have a chair for you.

Static intercom sounds…

Confused, I stared at the closed door for several minutes, until it dawned on me that I no longer worked there.

Scum of the earth

And this is how I found myself 20 minutes later in London's Hyde Park with six shrink-wrapped beers in the year 1998. On my stomach, sobbing between sips.

A mixture of fury, humiliation, being pissed off about the expensive train ticket I'd bought unnecessarily, and total devastation. Far from home and very sorry for myself. I had been in London for three months and already had a whole lot of shitty jobs behind me.

You would have thought this would be the low point of the day, but that  followed when I opened the second beer around 10 am and made eye contact with an Orthodox Jewish family pushing a pram through the park. I read absolute disgust and judgment in the man's gaze just before he jerked his head away and changed direction with such speed that the little curl on the side of his head bounced. I still experience shame.

His gaze communicated that I was the scum of the earth against whom he had to protect his little family. Drunk in the daytime, alone under a tree, with eyes resembling those of a panda.

Magical power of food

London had a lot of low points, but the lifelong friends I made there made me feel at home in the world for the first time in my life.

When I met them, they had to teach me to chop onions because I couldn't even make a cup of coffee.

This soup was quick and cheap and on repeat in those years. With it there was usually a fresh, flat Turkish bread from the cafe across the street and, if we wanted to be fancy, Philadelphia cream cheese. We spent so many nights like that with dahl, marijuana fumes, candles and Crowded House, David Bowie and Radiohead, that something deep inside me thought it would never end.

When you are young, you dream a lot about the future. Sometimes, I wish I could create a time tunnel back to one of those nights, just to tell myself: Be HERE. Remember THIS.

When you're 20, you don't know who will still be in your life almost three decades later. Along the way, you lose people to whom you swore eternal loyalty. Lifelong friendships always require someone to reach out, to keep forging the bonds, to keep the connection going. The older you get, these people who keep the relay race going with you become more precious.

I am grateful to be among the last generation that was able to transition from childhood to adulthood without social media and cellphone documentation. That I have letters on paper that we mailed to each other. And that I can remember evenings with LPs and candles and dreams about the future.

But that's the magic of food — it's a time tunnel. And tonight, as I feel tearful about Sinéad O'Connor's brilliant candle being blown out and the Cape winter feeling colder and wetter than ever, I'm making dahl. A time tunnel to togetherness.


Carrot and lentil soup

If you use homemade stock or buy a ready-made bone broth, the soup will be so much richer and healthier. But any stock will work. I used white carrots (parsnips), but regular carrots work just as well.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or ghee
  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • ½ chilli, chopped (optional)
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups lemon wedges

On top:

  • 4 carrots, cut into strips
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper (or cumin)


1. Heat the oil and fry the lentils for a minute.

2. Add the onion, sweat until soft, then add the garlic, paprika, chilli and carrots.

3. Add the stock to the soup, and once it reaches boiling point, stir well,  turn down the heat, and let it simmer with the lid on. Add water every now and then and make sure the heat is low enough that it doesn't burn. It takes about 30 minutes. Taste and season with salt.

4. Remove from the heat and add a firm squeeze of fresh lemon juice to the pot. This is the secret ingredient you shouldn't leave out. Sometimes I grate the peel as well. I like this soup very thick — not thin, like dahl is traditionally served.

5. While the soup is simmering, preheat the oven to 200ºC and place the carrots, cherry tomatoes and olive oil in an oven dish and roast for 20 minutes. Then stir in the honey, cinnamon and red pepper and roast for another five minutes to caramelise.

6. Serve each portion of soup with some of the carrot and tomato on top.

7. I had chorizo ​​on hand and added slices of it this time. I also like something fresh on soup and sprinkled fresh fennel chips and spring onions on top. Soup is all about the toppings.

♦ VWB ♦

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