One of those happy dishes…

The other day, I was talking to a colleague about, would you believe, lecturers who had inspired us when we were at university. We had both studied linguistics, so that made the conversation just a bit different from the usual ‘what I liked about uni’ conversations. Anyway, during our chat, I mentioned that the wife of my personal ‘academic hero’ had written a vegetarian cookery book back in the day. The book, The Happy Herbivore, is a lovely collection of home-grown recipes, easy to make, full of fun stories and some ingredients that I don’t think exist any more (who remembers Tartex? Can you still get it?).

The book

The book is illustrated with charming pen and ink drawings like the one below. Jaime Lass was a cat lover and founder of the Lothian Cat Rescue, a vegetarian and illustrator and artist, all of which I don’t believe I appreciated at the time.

Soups…with a happy cat

Like most recipe books, there are a couple of things that I return to again and again, in this case, the mushrooms on toast and the best lentil soup ever. The lentils are cooked in stock, with some bay leaves, ginger and a teaspoon of Marmite. Onions, garlic and mushrooms (and I sometimes add carrots), are cooked off separately then added to the soup. The finishing touch is a splash of lemon juice and dash of sherry, which quite frankly is what makes this a special lentil soup.


It is the perfect soup for winter days (it has turned cold here…), with some lovely crusty bread and perhaps a glass of red wine on the side. I don’t know how many times I have made this soup, but it always goes down well.

The recipe

Did you know that the Latin for lentil is lens? Our word ‘lens’ is derived form the fact that a double convex lens is the same shape as a whole lentil (see page 28 of The Happy Herbivore).

You can find Thistles and Kiwis on Facebook, and also on Instagram@thistleandkiwis.  As for Twitter….am totally inactive these days.  If you want to get in touch, email me on


  1. Your soup recipe sounds lovely.

    I did know about the lens and lentils and interestingly enough in a post of mine about a year ago I mentioned that also the Polish for lentils – soczewica comes from a word meaning a small lens.
    I only learnt these facts when doing my bit of research for my Polish lentil recipe.

    I also found and wrote that when Esau gave up his birthright to Jacob it was for a mess of pottage – the red soup – this was a bowl of lentil soup!

    I love the interconnections of the world.


  2. What an interesting post! I did not know that about lens and lentil. The cookbook looks wonderful, and that illustration is indeed charming. Also, what a strange coincidence for me to read this post as I have been thinking that I needed to learn to make a good lentil soup. As far as I know, we don’t have marmite here, but we do have something called Better than Bouillon, which is soy, spice mix. Also, need to find a good sherry. But you have set the wheels spinning.


      1. We really don’t have it here. At least not that I’ve seen. It seems to me that it provides the soup with an umami taste. We do have something called Better than Bouillon, which does a similar thing, and I would substitute that. Too hot for soup now, but fall is coming.


  3. Ah, I love soup – both the making and the eating of it – and lentil soup is my favourite! I’m increasingly thinking of soup as our weather is unseasonably cool and rainy for August. Now I’m happily embellishing in my head – marmite would make a great addition to my usual recipe; that will certainly go in my next batch!


    1. Just I posted my comment I had a thought….. There was The Happy Herbivore, available for just a couple of pounds and now on its way to me! It sound such a charming book. Vegetarianism, cats and hand-illustrated – it cannot fail to appeal and be useful at the same time 🙂


  4. Simple lentil soup is my favoorite recipe too. Jaime Lass’s book is the most charming, beautiful cook book I’ve ever read!

    Liked by 1 person

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