Lentils are marvelous things. Extolling the health benefits and relatively low cost of these little guys seems almost redundant these days, so I won’t dwell on lentillian virtues, except to say that there’s plenty of reading material online regarding the inherent culinary greatness therein.
Lentils are delicious and hearty without being overly dense. Of the three types, I have to say that I prefer the French variety, they’re smaller and darker than normal or red lentils and I think they tend to hold up better to lengthy braising/stewing whereas the others get a touch mushy. All are certainly worth a try- all are available at the gourmet grocery and at our local health food store they have them loose in hoppers so you can take as much or little as you need.
I’ve made lentil soup before, but this by far is a superior preparation. It has one or two humble embellishments which, of course, are optional but I think they transcend the soup from ordinary to ker-aaaazee-good. The first enhancement agent is pancetta, no surprise there, lentils and bacon pair famously. The second is the used rinds of old Parmesan cheese wedges. Italians have a soup preparation they call ribollita where they throw these guys in (along with the entire contents of a tired refrigerator). You get a cheesey flavor in the soup that’s just amazing. Plus, you’re using what is essentially waste. (If you haven’t been saving your rinds, you can always mix in some grated fresh parm at the end of cooking, but I wouldn’t recommend the canned stuff). The recipe, finally, follows:
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 oz pancetta, chopped into very small pieces (optional)
- 1 small or 1/2 large onion, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 3 leeks, halved then cut into thin semi-circles
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
- 6 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
- 1 can of petite cut tomatoes
- 1 lb lentils
- 2-3 Parmesan cheese rinds (optional)
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp cumin
- parsley/cilantro/something green to garnish, chopped fine
Heat the optional pancetta in the olive oil on medium-low heat for 10 minutes until the fat renders. Next, add the veggies up through the leeks and the salt (if you chose to eschew the pancetta, simply add the veg to the oil) and sweat for 5-10 minutes, until the leeks soften. With a minute or two to go, add the garlic.
Next, add the stock, tomatoes and lentils, then bring to a boil. Next, reduce to a simmer and add the cheese rinds and spices. Simmer this lovely concoction for 35-45 minutes, until the lentils are cooked to your liking (this will involve testing them every few minutes after the 35 minute mark). Normal and red lentils will probably be on the short side of the cooking time, Frenchies on the high side.
At this point, remove an amount of the soup to your blender and blend until smooth. Add this back into the pot to thicken matters slightly. I do not recommend an amount to remove because this is contingent on how smooth/thick/chunky you like your soup. I’d say around a cup is a nice balance. I don’t use my precious stick blender here; it leaves behind little half-blended soup pieces and lentil shrapnel unless your puree the entire pot. Using the blender allows you to completely pulverize a small amount of the soup, leaving no fragments. Remember- always be careful transferring and blending hot liquids.
I was very pleased with this recipe and recommend trying it out ASAP. Until next time, true believers. Ciao!