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A Lentil Soup to Change Your Life

How one sea-faring couple found happiness in a low-fat recipe.

By Carolyn Meagher, Omak, Washington

As appeared in

She was a beauty! Sixty-five feet long, blue and white, all steel.

The she in question? A tugboat. I can’t say I ever imagined us owning one let alone thinking of it as a thing of beauty, but when my husband, Joe, spotted her in a Navy surplus magazine, he was done for. We named her Sea Fever.

For our first long excursion Joe and I and our three young children chugged from our homeport in Everett, Washington, up the passage between Vancouver Island and Canada to visit friends in Alaska. There weren’t many places to shop along the way, so I relied on easily stored and filling meals like soups, stews and casseroles.

One soup bubbled to the top: a hearty concoction with lentils, carrots, onions, celery, garlic and lots of spicy sausages. The kids dubbed it Tugboat Lentil Soup. It was a favorite onshore too. “Mom, can you make tugboat soup?” the kids asked when friends were over. Holidays, reunions, potlucks—where there was food and family there was always tugboat soup.

After the kids moved out, Joe and I sold our beloved Sea Fever and moved inland to Omak, known for its orchards and rugged terrain. Our favorite meal didn’t change. I made tugboat soup for Joe and me, and whipped up a batch whenever the kids came to visit.

Then one morning in 1997, Joe had a massive heart attack. He needed a quintuple bypass. I’d never prayed so hard in my life: Lord, please give Joe the strength to pull through this. Help him!

He did. But the doctor’s news was sobering: too much cholesterol. Joe’s coronary arteries were almost completely blocked, which was what had led to the heart attack.

“You’ve got to eat healthier and start exercising,” the doctor said. That meant Joe had to cut back on fatty foods. I decided it couldn’t hurt to change my diet too. The Lord had given Joe another chance, and now we both needed to make the most of it. We gave up cheese, butter, ice cream…and the hardest of all—those tasty little sausages in our Tugboat Lentil Soup.

Maybe the soup would be just as delicious without sausage, I thought the first time I made it post-op. I tried out a sausage-free batch, adding extra carrots, celery and garlic for flavor.

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“What do you think, Joe?” I asked, handing him a spoon.

He slurped the soup, then looked at me. “It’s good, honey…it’s just missing something.” I tasted it and had to agree. This had seemed like an easy recipe to redo. If I couldn’t get a simple soup right, how would I make the rest of our meals healthier? Lord, what can I add here? Help me make the right choices for our health.

Then it hit me: low-fat chicken sausage! I picked up a few packages at the store. Back home, I added a pound of sliced chicken sausage to the pot af­ter the vegetables cooked, and let it simmer for 10 minutes. The heady aroma wafted through the house. I couldn’t wait for Joe to try it.

“Wow!” he said, plunging the spoon back in for another bite. “This tastes even better than regular sausage.”

I thought so too. We’ve had fun testing different kinds of chicken sausage: tomato basil, maple, spicy andouille.

Our favorite soup got a makeover, and so did we. Joe and I exercise regularly and we’ve each lost 10 pounds. I’ve re­vamped more recipes and compiled them into a cookbook: Seasoned With Love: Heart-Healthy Recipes and Reflections About Food, Family, Faith and Friends. I even ran the nutritional analysis on each meal to make sure the total fat content falls below the American Heart Associa­tion’s recommended amount per serving.

The Sea Fever might be long gone, but our new and improved lentil soup is here to stay, a reminder of God’s grace filling our bowls and our souls.

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Try Tugboat Lentil Soup!