Sadness and Good Food are Incompatible

“Sadness and good food are incompatible. The old sages knew that wine lets the tongue loose, but one can grow melancholy with even the best bottle, especially as one grows older. The appearance of food, however, brings instant happiness. A paella, a choucroute garnie, a pot of tripes a la mode de Caen, and so many other dishes of peasant origin guarantee merriment. The best talk is around that table. Poetry and wisdom are its company…Cats and dogs don’t stay far from the busy kitchen. Heaven is a pot of chili simmering on the stove. If I were to write about the happiest days of my life, many of them would have to do with food and wine and a table full of friends. One could compose an autobiography mentioning every memorable meal in one’s life and it would probably make better reading than what one ordinarily gets. Honestly, what would you rather have, the description of a first kiss or of stuffed cabbage done to perfection?”

— Charles Simic, from The Life of Images, a collection of essays, most of them hilarious, by the Pulitzer-Prize winning poet/philosopher/food-lover

We were particularly far from sadness on the Sunday night we had this meal: Lamb kibbeh with mint-cucumber yogurt sauce (page 81, Dinner: A Love Story), basic arugula, avocado salad with a shower of chives (with this dressing) and a quick pot of curried red lentils.

Curried Red Lentils with Yogurt
I didn’t write this one down as I cooked, so forgive the inexactness of the instruction. It’s hard to mess up, though. You just have to keep an eye on the lentils when they’re simmering because they can lose their shape pretty quickly and dissolve into mush. (Of course, worse comes to worst, in that situation, you just add more broth or maybe a little coconut milk, give it a whirl with the immersion blender, and call it soup.)

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons minced shallots (or onions)
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
about 2 cups red lentils, rinsed
about 2 1/2 cups chicken broth (or enough to just barely cover lentils in a pot)

In a medium pot set over medium heat, cook shallots or onions in olive oil until softened, about 3 minutes. Add curry, garlic powder, smoked paprika, salt and pepper, and cook another minute. Add curry paste, smushing into the onions, and cook another 30 seconds.

Add lentils, stirring around until shiny, then add chicken broth, just enough to cover the lentils. Bring to a boil, then back down to a simmer. Simmer about 12 minutes, stirring every few minutes and making sure lentils don’t completely break down. Start tasting after eight minutes — when lentils are firm but not crunchy, turn off heat. If there is a lot of liquid left, drain into a colander. Otherwise, use a slotted spoon to serve.

Serve and top with any of the following: Plain yogurt, chopped cilantro, or pesto (I used kale pesto I picked up at our farmer’s market, but only because I was out of Swad’s coriander chutney)

Leftovers make a great breakfast, especially with a fried egg on top.

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The Prestigious School

The happiest meal I remember is after my last baby was born, and all the relatives had gone, and it was just us and a homemade spaghetti sauce I had made and put in the freezer for a quick meal. It tasted heavenly, and we were all so happy to be alone again.


Lovely post, I love the idea of a big pot luck dinner every couple of weeks, sharing food and good times, might have to start one…


But what about the casseroles from friends and family after a death in the family? I have never felt so nourished and satisfied by food as by those dishes filled with love and concern.

Jennifer O.

Where I come from, sadness often brings out some of the best food. Funeral food is in its own category! That was my first thought/reaction to your post title.


Such a great quote! and that dinner is what we need to add into our sometimes stale rotation…Thanks!
I love coming to your site. It cheers me in ways that are generally reserved for quiet encounters with nature, or nonstop laughing sessions with my family. Thanks again. Lastly, I’ve read so many wonderful books per your recommendation on this website (and on Nerd Alert), so thank you-thank you!

Lisa Lippert

SWADS! Love that stuff! This looks nice and simple- think it might just be what was needed tonight!


I made the red lentils to accompany grilled steak and your sandwich slaw (from the Playbook) and my 7 year old declared, “I could eat these all day long!” Winning!! But now that I have a jar of red curry paste, what else can I make??