Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lentil soup

Earlier this week, I embarked upon the last year of my twenties. I am tickled to say my husband has perfected his gift-selecting skills rather early in this marriage: a set of adorable little measuring cups, a pretty top from Anthropologie, box of fancy chocolates, and the "How to Cook Everything" and "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" box set by culinary authority (and no-knead bread perfecter) Mark Bittman. As the titles suggest, these are some formidable cookbooks. Considering we are all in the middle of soup season, I figured that would be a good place to start.

Oh, lentils. Is there anything you can't do? They're full of protein, fiber, iron, vitamins and minerals, not to mention quick to cook and cheap as hell - a "superfood" in every possible way. These are standard brown Spanish Pardina lentils, but I'm sure you could use whatever kind you have on hand (if you use the cute little green French ones, be wary of overcooking them).

Obviously, you needn't add sausage if you want to keep it very light or vegetarian. But really, one sausage link (or handful of diced bacon) adds just a few more calories per serving (to an already very light soup) while bringing considerable flavor to the party. I used one of my homemade smoked andouille sausages which brought a subtle heat that I really like, but I'm sure any smoked sausage would be delicious.

Bittman suggested a vegetarian variation in which you add the juice of a lemon or two and a handful of dill at the end - I think I'll try that one next.

1 link sausage (or couple rashers bacon), diced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1.5 cups lentils, picked over and rinsed
9 cups chicken stock or water (I only had about 4 cups of broth, and with all the flavor from the sausage using water for the rest was totally fine)

In a large heavy pot, saute your sausage in a little drizzle of olive oil until it's crisped up and rendered its fat, around five minutes. Add the onion with a pinch of kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper and allow to sweat for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic, carrot, and celery. Allow to cook for just another couple of minutes until the vegetables are brightly colored and slightly softened, then add the bay leaf, lentils, and stock or water with another good pinch of kosher salt. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and allow to simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the lentils have cooked through (mine took all 45 minutes). Taste, adjust seasonings (Bittman suggests adding a good grind of fresh pepper at the end, and I support this whole-heartedly), and serve up in the super cute Buddha bowl your awesome sister-in-law sent for your birthday.

Serves 6, takes under an hour.

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