They’re big. They’re heavy. And they’re beautiful. But above all, enameled cast iron pots are a pleasure to cook with. That’s because of the heat-retaining properties of the cast iron, and the enamel that forms a non-stick style coating. Cast iron has been used since Pa and Ma cooked over the fire on Little House on the Prairie, but the advent of the enamel made the seasoning of the cast iron, which develops a non-stick surface, unnecessary.

My sister had an enormous yellow dutch oven that I enjoyed using now and then in Chicago, but I became hooked on enameled cast iron cookware in culinary school. Tante Marie’s was well stocked with perfectly sized oval dutch ovens, and it seemed that we all darted for the blue one when we set out to make our dishes for the day.

Enameled cast iron is my cookware of choice for soups, stews, and braises. For deep frying your chicken, seasoned old-fashioned cast iron skillets are still considered preferable. I am always astonished when the inside of my Le Creuset dutch oven wipes clean with ease after I’ve abused it with baked-on, cooked-on of whatever I’ve made. Yes, it’s heavy like a mo-fo, and to that end I keep mine on a shelf that’s easy to pull from. Ideally you would have huge muscles that wouldn’t bat an eye at lifting the thing, or a man around with same. My sister keeps her beauty of a pot right on the stove at all times, a bright yellow spot of sunshine.

There are a few good brands of enameled cast iron to choose from, but I favor Le Creuset. I love how Le Creuset is still made in a village in France by hand, and the rainbow of colors makes it hard to choose just one. Availability of colors depends on where you buy—Williams-Sonoma seems to have the widest selection of colors. The damage to your wallet is about $300, but you really only need one or two pieces to get the job done—the key piece of all is the mid-sized oval dutch oven, a multi-purpose pot that surprises me by being the perfect size for pretty much any soup or chili. I don’t have one of the oval mid-sized pots, mainly because I selected my massive dutch oven before I knew that the smaller one would be a good size to have. Often to the Lebanese, bigger pots (a tunjura—that’s one of the Arabic words that gets used more often than the English even by my generation) are better, and I guess I thought I’d be cooking for an army.

Get your tunjura standing at attention for the deliciously bright but earthy, Lent-friendly (a.k.a., vegetarian) soup we’re making this week.

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