When I have heard the words “lentil soup” in the past, only one word came to mind and that was “sludge”. Awful olivey-green-murky-brown-water sludge with some ominous lentils swimming around….in a bowl. Passed off as soup.
Mind you, I love soup. Creamy soups, brothy soups, veggies, meats, noodles. Bring it on. It’s only pea soup with ham that makes me cringe (just like the hippo named George from the 1970s kid’s book George and Martha. Remember, he poured pea soup in his loafers rather than eat it?). And up until this point, lentil. I have now come across not one but TWO outstanding lentil soup recipes. It’s still kinda, sorta, maybe winter out there, so we can talk hot soups that make you want to cuddle in front of a fire. It’s just a smaller fire these days.
This first one I found in the Williams-Sonoma catalogue, of all places. Looked good (great color), I tried it and it’s fabulous. The key to this soup is Smoked Paprika. You will be amazed-it’s a great, unique flavor. Between the taste and the lentils, this one will satisfy and stick to your ribs. On top of everything, it’s healthy (if you leave out the bacon). Pair it will a great panini and you’re good to go.
Smokey Lentil Soup
3 bacon slices (here we go with bacon again)
2 Tb. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced (tiny pieces!)
1 celery stalk, diced (small pieces, too!)
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tb. tomato paste
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained
3/4 cup RED lentils, picked over and rinsed
4 cups chicken broth (go low-sodium. No one needs the extra salt)
kosher salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream (or greek yogurt) to garnish
*This bacon part is totally optional. If you choose to, though…Chop bacon into small pieces and cook in saute pan until crisp. Place on dish with paper towel to drain and cool.
In soup pan, warm olive oil. Add onion, carrots, celery, garlic, tomato paste and paprika. Cover and cook vegetables start to soften, about 25 minutes. Open lid occasionally to stir. Add tomatoes, lentils and broth. Cover: cook on high until lentils are done, about5 35-40 minutes. Use immersion blender to slightly blend soup. Don’t overblend…leave some chunks. It’s more visually interesting that way AND it doesn’t end up looking like baby food. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and bacon pieces, if using.
And the other lentil soup recipe….somehow, beloved Ina Garten managed to create a lentil soup that is actually fresh tasting. All the ingredients hold their own and it doesn’t break down into a sludge-y (there’s that word again) mess. The key to this soup is using French green lentils. They are smaller and more delicate than regular lentils and easy to find in just about any grocery story, so don’t be scared. This soup will make you want to be a vegetarian (even if just for this meal) and you’ll be lovin’ the leguuuumes….c’mon, say it with me….leguuuuumes….
Lentil Vegetable Soup-The Barefoot Contessa
(this recipe can easily be halved if you are not feeding an army at the moment)
1 lb. French green lentils
4 cups chopped yellow onions (about 3 large onions)
4 cups chopped leeks, white part only (about 2 leeks)
1 Tb. minced garlic
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 Tb. kosher salt
1.5 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1 Tb. minced fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried
1 tsp. ground cumin
3 cups medium diced celery (about 8 stalks)
3 cups medium diced carrots (about 4-6 carrots)
3 quarts chicken stock
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 Tb. red wine or red wine vinegar
In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.
In a large stockpot on medium heat, saute the onions, leeks and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme and cumin for 20 minutes, until the veggies are translucent and very tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 10 more minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for an hour, until the lentils are cooked through. Check the seasonings. Add the red wine and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a grating of parmigiano-reggiano if you like. Serves 8-10.
Soup for you!