The Humble Lentil
Lentils have many positive attributes. They’re cheap, hearty, healthy, easy to store and quick to cook. They do not require soaking. In fact, they may just be one of the perfect foods.
However, I have to admit, they don’t really turn me on. Theoretically, I can look at a lentil soup recipe and think “Yes, that would be a RESPONSIBLE thing to cook for dinner, given limited time and budget, and of course taking health concerns into consideration”, and so I’ll put it on the weekly menu list. But then when it comes time to actually prepare it, my stomach says to me “Gee, Kathryn, that doesn’t sound terribly exciting. Wouldn’t you rather go out for pizza?”
The Cookbook: Almost Vegetarian by Diana Shaw. A Primer for Cooks Who Are Eating Vegetarian Most of the Time, Chicken & Fish Some of the Time & Altogether Well All of the Time.
This cookbook, I have to admit, perplexes me just a bit. There are great recipes in here, and I do mean great. They just seem to be slightly, well, OFF sometimes. In my experience, it’s a fantastic book of ideas, but you need a bit of willingness to mess with the recipe even the first time around, or you may be disappointed with the results.
The Recipe: Lentil Soup with Spinach and Parmesan (my adaptation)
Cooking It Up:
It was late yesterday afternoon when I trundled out to the kitchen to start dinner. Things were already going awry, which just seems to be par for the course around here. At some point earlier in the day I decided, for reasons still unknown to me, that it would be a fabulous idea to make French bread. Why I do these things to myself I cannot tell you. (Masochistic tendencies?) I checked the expiration date on my packets of yeast, and chose the freshest one…supposedly good until August 2011. LIARS!!! My dough really did give the rising bit a good old college try before expiring with an almost-audible “oof”. I baked it anyway, three rather puny baguettes. Oddly, they wound up tasting so good (though decidedly dense) that Chris and I devoured an entire loaf that evening. Did I mention they weren’t very big?
So with the bread in the oven (and dreaming of pizza), I reviewed the recipe for the lentil soup. And noted the changes I would be making. For one, I had absolutely no intention of making my own vegetable stock, at least this time around. Nor would I be using canned stock in which I had steeped a bouquet garni for 30 minute. Yes, you did read that correctly. Due to the aforementioned financial constraints, I would be using water and vegetable bouillon (Organic Gourmet is a good choice).
And do you know, this recipe calls for absolutely no seasoning, with the exception of black pepper to taste? Now I’m really not a huge salt person, but what kind of soup recipe doesn’t call for at least a little?
So I basically did a recipe overhaul, using the original as a guide. And what do you know – it was absolutely delicious. I even forgot about pizza (at least for the duration of the meal).
Lentil Soup with Spinach and Parmesan (adapted from Almost Vegetarian):
Heat 1 TB olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add 1 cup onion, 1 1/2 cups chopped carrot and 1 cup chopped celery. Saute about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 2 cloves minced garlic and continue to saute until the vegetables are very tender. Stir in 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (if you happen to have it) and 1/4 tsp celery salt. Cook for 1 more minute.
Mix in 3 cups chopped fresh spinach and cook about 1 minute more. Add 6 cups water, 1 vegetable bouillon cube, 1 cup tomato sauce or pureed tomatoes, and 1 cup uncooked green lentils (rinsed). Give the whole thing a good stir, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes over medium-low heat. Stir from time to time so it doesn’t stick.
Add 1/4 cup brown rice. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 50 minutes or until the rice is tender.
Top each bowl with a tablespoon or two of grated Parmesan. This really makes it!
I do believe this soup will become a go-to recipe. In fact, I might even have a bowl for breakfast this morning. Is that wrong?
Until next time,