Can you imagine eating the same lentil soup at your desk for lunch virtually every workday for almost two decades?
Branson’s schedule is fairly unpredictable, as you might imagine: He supervises the nursing staff at the HIV clinic of a public hospital, Harborview Medical Center, where he and others have been plenty busy lately keeping on top of developments in the coronavirus outbreak. The one thing he can depend on, day in and day out, is this bright, rich and fragrant Greek lentil and spinach soup. It’s hearty and thick, with lentils as the base, bulked up by potatoes and butternut squash, and a flavor enlivened by a heavy dose of aromatic spices — plus a pop of fresh lemon juice.
“I’m a vegetarian, and getting a reliable source of protein every day at lunch is important to me,” Branson, 63, told me in a phone interview. “Plus, it’s fun to make. It’s got a rhythm to it. And at this point, I can do it without looking at the recipe.”
This all started when his favorite brand of canned soup, his previous workday lunch habit, changed the recipe to something he didn’t enjoy. “We had made other things we liked out of Crescent’s book,” he said, “so I went hunting and found the Greek lentil soup and made a batch, and the rest is history.”
That was 17 years ago. Every other Saturday since, Branson has made enough of the soup to fill four glass jars, enough to last him for eight lunches. (He works nine days over every two-week stretch, and on the ninth he goes back to opening a can.) Sometimes, if he makes a little extra soup — if, say, the butternut squash or potatoes he buys are bigger than usual — he’ll have some left over and his wife gets a taste, too.
In case you think he would get bored by something he has eaten thousands of times, far from it. Even though he always uses the same ingredients, “the soup never really tastes the same,” he said. “It’s always a little bit of a surprise: The onion came out strongly this time, or that’s a really good butternut squash. If I hadn’t made it as often as I had, I’d never have noticed that.”
When Branson emailed Dragonwagon about his soup fandom, she was delighted: What cookbook author wouldn’t be upon hearing that someone had made one of your recipes hundreds of times? “I am glad to have been eating lunch with you all these years, without even knowing it,” she wrote him back.
All good things must come to an end, including Branson’s ritual lunches. He’s retiring soon. “I have a countdown clock on my desk that says 111 days,” he said. “So I suspect I’ll retire the soup. But 111 days from today, I plan to make a big vat of it and bring it to my retirement party. That way, everybody else can have some.”