Solstice Cleansing

Last night marked the fourth summer solstice that I’ve spent in Portugal. Yes, three years ago in June, I started my trips back and forth that stretched to the point I was spending more time here than stateside. Though most of my trip in June 2015 I spent enjoying Porto for the onset of the Festas de São João (and the sardinhas), on the day itself I regrouped in Carcavelos, relaxing by the beaches that stretch along the Costa do Estoril between Lisboa and Cascais.

The first of four solstices in Portugal, at Carcavelos in 2015

The next year, 2016, marked the first I’d witness from the town beach at Praia dãs Maçãs. A smaller beach, full of rocks both towering and hidden in the sand, Praia dãs Maçãs calmed me then as we navigated new waters, and served as a balm each day at the end of work. As a pack we marched down to the beach to watch the waves, and the pups would run it out, savoring the sand and chasing the birds—and looking for treats left behind by errant beachcombers. We’ve witnessed great improvement, but still the inevitable detritus lingers.

My first solstice on our town beach in 2016

Last year marked the first of our random gardens, with the soil built up from compost strewn over the beds of sand dune. The year before we struggled to grow zucchini, but in 2017 we saw a bumper crop of squash and tomatoes already taking shape by the third week of June. You can see the proof in the the picture, with the pale orange of a tiny butternut squash peeking through the broad green leaves spreading over the back lawn.

The Random Garden in 2017 on the solstice

And this year? Our crops are coming in a little later, because of the lingering rains and cool fronts, but more tomatoes and squash and our first potatoes fill us with promise. Our herb garden grows like mad. For the eve of the solstice we walked down to the beach to see the sunset, and the rays of last daylight echoed in a rainbow over the Serrra da Sintra. I think this solstice feels abundant, and blessed.

The last sunlight of the Solstice 2018 echoes into a rainbow over the Serra da Sintra

At this time of the year, freshness rules the plate, and veggie-fueled clean eating drives the menu. I made a stew this week of lentils with leeks, onions, and zucchini, plus garlic and padrones peppers for a swipe of bitter interest. I seasoned it with bay leaf and za’atar and Aleppo pepper, plus lemon peel—and a few dashes of soy and a random packet of ketchup for umami (don’t knock it when you’re out of tomato paste). With a sprinkle of parmesan on top, over pasta, potatoes, or rice, this is a vegan delight (varying with your choice of cheese) suitable for light summer appetites—and a glass of rosé.

Gathering herbs and deadheading the big rosebush in the back of the Random Garden 2018

Lentil Stew

Sopa de Lentilhas

2 cups green or red lentils, rinsed and picked over (I found 6 little stones in mine!)

About 2 cups of water, to cover the lentils

1 onion, diced to 1/2 inches

2 leeks, white portions only, cleaned and sliced into 1/2 inch crescents

4 padrones or other small green peppers (or one medium green bell pepper, if you must), seeded and sliced in 1/2-inch pieces

1 to 2 zucchini, diced to 1/2 inches

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon green peppercorns

1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

1 tablespoon za’atar

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

1 teaspoon onion flakes (if available)

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 lemon’s worth of zest

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon ketchup

1. In a heavy enameled casserole pot, sauté in olive oil over medium high heat the onion, leeks, and zucchini for 4 minutes until translucent and with some browning. Add the padrones, and sauté for another 2 minutes to combine the flavors. Do not cook them too long, as they will have more time to soften as the stew simmers a bit later.

2. Meanwhile, in a mortar, blend the green peppercorns, Aleppo pepper, za’atar, thyme, onion flakes, and a half teaspoon of salt until well mixed.

3. Stir the lentils into the sautéed mixture in the same pan over the heat, then add about 2 cups of water to cover the lentils.

4. Add the bay leaf, garlic, and the herb/spice blend from the mortar into the pot.

5. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat. Cover halfway with the lid and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. About halfway through, add the soy sauce and ketchup.

6. Test the lentils for tenderness and when they are ready, adjust the salt. Stir in the lemon zest.

7. Serve over pasta, mashed potatoes, or brown rice as desired. Add an additional sprinkle of Aleppo pepper to taste, if you want.