Freezer and cabinet hoarding must end

Jenna Cho Meet my pantry.

Reader. I know it's early in our relationship and I shouldn't overshare. My love affair with cheese is one thing, but now I must come clean about a bad habit.

I'm a hoarder. My pantry and freezer are stuffed with all sorts of items I pick up compulsively at the store — you know, in case of emergencies. I'm also a champion freezer but a terrible user of those frozen products — egg yolks left over from some dessert that required only egg whites, zucchini all chopped up and ready to use, over-ripened banana to make banana bread with, and on and on and on.

I'll get all excited about a new recipe I want to try and get, say, a package of guava paste for some puff pastries I intend to make before I'm pulled in a different direction by another recipe, or a sudden craving, and the guava paste just sits there, inching anxiously toward its expiration date, which as I grow older always seems to come faster than expected.

I think part of the problem is that I like to be prepared. I go to Trader Joe's and I'm scintillated by all of their amazing products and I come back home with a new bag of frozen dumplings or tube of tomato paste or bag of slivered almonds, only to realize that I've duplicated my efforts and now I have TOO MANY CANS OF BEANS I WILL NEVER EAT.

I'm one person, yet I'm hurricane ready for 12.

If I ever want to return to the grocery store with a shopping list that is built around an actual meal and not just on indulging my every fleeting need, I'm going to have to start clearing some of those shelves. ... You know, to make room for more stockpiling.

So I made this French lentil soup, with which I accomplished a couple of things. First, I got a quick, clean and healthy meal to balance out all the junk I've been inhaling lately. Second, I used up some canned tomatoes I'd frozen months ago, plus some baby carrots that I always buy and never get through.

It's an easy, satisfying soup where the lentils and simple vegetables do all the talking — no extra spices or cover-up flavors. I skipped the celery since I didn't have any and didn't want to buy a bag just to have the leftover stalks get all sad and droopy in the fridge because I would undoubtedly neglect them. I also skipped the part where you're supposed to puree some of the soup because I prefer the texture of the individual lentils. Also, though the recipe called for salt, I found I didn't need to add any, as the salt in the broth was enough for me.

I paired this soup with a simple salad using produce I had hanging out in my fridge — Persian cucumbers, roasted beets, avocados, eggs that I hard-boiled, strawberries, apples and a handful of roasted almonds. A light drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette is all I typically require in my salad. I also had some leftover French bread hanging out in the freezer, so I popped it in the oven to toast, then rubbed a clove of garlic on it to give it a clean garlic flavor without the need for butter or oil.

So many birds. One stone.

Jenna Cho blogs about food on theday.com. Email her at j.cho@theday.com.

French Lentil Soup

Adapted from epicurious.com

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 cup chopped carrots

1 cup chopped celery stalks (I substituted with some extra carrots)

2 garlic cloves, chopped

4 cups (or more) vegetable broth

1¼ cups lentils, rinsed and drained

14½-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice

Heat oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add vegetables and saute until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add broth, lentils and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes.

If the soup is too thick, thin out with some more broth. I found I needed about one more cup of broth. Salt and pepper to taste.

Meet my freezer.
Jenna Cho Meet my freezer.
Meet my lentil soup.
Jenna Cho Meet my lentil soup.

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