Monday, November 8, 2010
Edu: Lentil Soup
I love soup. Let me define soup for you by telling you what soup is not. Soup should not have a consistency that allows consumption through a straw (I'm talking to you Butternut Squash). Soup should also be served hot, with a piece of warm, soft, crunchy bread. While we're at it, Soups should also not have a broth so thick that it resembles chunky gravy, or worse Gravy Train. Soup should have character, like my delicious Mulligatawny of last winter. Soup should embrace a mix of ingredients and flavors and textures instead of pureeing everything into oblivion. A good Soup is hearty and strangely refreshing. And finally, Soup should be enjoyed in the Fall/Winter months. If you want Gazpacho or Chowder, go away. If you want Stew or Bisque, buzz off. I like soup, and will be making a new soup every week and compiling the recipes here for safe-keeping.
Last week I made a Mini-Meatball Soup by Rachael Ray that I found on the Food Network website. I love Italian Wedding soup, and have been looking for similar soups (meatballs + some sort of pasta) to help me branch out into new soups without getting too crazy. It was pretty tasty, but I should have made Turkey meatballs instead of ground Beef, and added some more spices. The ground beef was just too fatty and the meatballs were a bit greasy. From now on I am sticking with Turkey meatballs and doubling all the spices. For this week's soup, I decided to try an ingredient I have never cooked with before, or eaten for that matter; lentils.
You may or may not already be familiar with lentils, but if asked to describe them prior to yesterday I would have probably used the adjective "beany" and probably "icky". Well, lentils are in fact a legume, but icky they are not. I was actually a little concerned to be making my first soup without meat in it. I think of meat as a soup safety net. In case the veggies are undercooked or the soup is poorly seasoned, sausage/meatballs are there to distract you. This fear proved to be unfounded. I'll stop talking now and get to the recipe. Please follow along at home:
Here is what you will need:
Disregard the Newcastle and the shrubbery. Here are the ingredients in list form for the hard-of-seeing.
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaf
2 teaspoon dried basil
2 (14.5 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
2 cups dry lentils
8 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup spinach, rinsed and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste.
Conveniently, I had most of these things already from the Mini-meatball soup and only had to run out for Chicken broth, lentils and tomatoes. Like all recipes, it is important to have your mise-en-place (not to be confused with mise-en-scene, which I typed first. Although, if you have a cooking show or like to pretend you do when you're alone, this is important too.)
I don't know why I don't just use my stock carrot/celery/onion photo that I've taken a million times, but I don't and always end up getting my camera all wet after washing everything. Obviously I cut the ends off these guys and scrubbed off any dirt/discoloration/worms. I didn't peel the carrots because the skin adds flavor and I have enough trouble handling normal utensils.
Carrots and celery joined by 1 medium yellow onion, awkwardly diced on a cutting board that was already half full of vegetables. The things I do for a nice photo. Ah, reminds me of me moderland.
This is thrown into a large pot lined with olive oil on medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until the onions are "fragrant". If you're not sure what that means, stick your head over the pot and if you are instantly brought to tears, it is fragrant.
Once the veggies are cooked, add your Garlic and spices. Note: As I mentioned earlier, I doubled all the spices and added Cumin and Red pepper flakes not featured in the original recipe. The recipe above contains all my modifications. I apologize for the awkward camera angle, but the light in my kitchen is obnoxious and it's damn near impossible to not cast a shadow on things. As such, I have to stand ten feet away and zoom and hold my camera above my head like a mental patient. I closed the blinds first.
After another two minutes to allow the spices and garlic to work their sultry wonders on the veggies, add you 8 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you want the soup to be "truly" vegetarian), your two cans of stewed tomatoes (these have salt in them so I did not add any more salt), and of course, your two cups of lentils. Bring this to a rigorous boil, and reduce to simmer for about an hour. Here's what boiling looks like, you dolts.
What did I do for my hour? I read the Boston Phoenix, ate some Goldfish, stirred occasionally, and watched the first quarter of what turned out to be a shellacking of the Patriots. After an hour, I checked on things and added the Spinach (torn up into medium pieces) and the two tablespoons of Balsamic vinegar. This is what was staring back at me from the stove.
It smelled delightful. I delicately ladled it into a bowl and arranged a few pieces of bread for a photo before I dug in and burned my mouth quite extensively. This is the photo that will be opposite this recipe in my upcoming cookbook.
I like to think I can treat my own food impartially, but this was really superb. Strangely, the lentils seemed to have disintegrated a bit during the boiling process, but actually gave the soup a wholesome and meaty texture that I'm not sure would have been there otherwise. The cumin and red pepper gave it a modest kick and all the veggies were soft without being mushy. Here's what people are saying about it:
"I love this soup." - AG
"I hate to give you compliments, but this is the best lentil soup I've ever had. Even better than my mom's." -JB
"If I were on death row, this would be my last meal." -Anonymous