Thursday, January 3, 2008

Soup of The Week: French Lentil and Vegetable

I have had this recipe from Ina Garten in my "to try" pile for...hmm, well, at least two years. When I first printed it out it was getting raves on a bulletin board I spend time visiting. What kept me from making it was having all the ingredients on hand, and every time I would pull it out, I would find something missing. This week, I managed to remember it and look it over before I went and did my shopping.

The only thing I had problems with was the lentils themselves. The recipe specifically states that "small French green lentils are preferred over the brown ones. To my knowledge, I've never seen green lentils. But I spent a good 20 minutes going through each and every aisle last weekend looking for those green lentils. At the store where I do the bulk of my grocery shopping, there are at least four places in the store where a dried legume could be hiding, so I had to hit each and every one. I even had a standoff with am elderly chap at one of the bean displays. Apparently I was taking too long for his taste, and since it was a busy Sunday afternoon, my extra-wide cart was taking up precious real estate.

Anyway, I could not find these green lentils! I checked the regular dried beans, the cereal aisle, the Hispanic and Asian sections to no avail. Then I remembered the natural foods section, and there, in a tiny package on the top row was a bag with the label "French green lentils", I grabbed it, despite the very hefty price tag, and gave it a look-over. It didn't take long for me to make my way back to the bean aisle, pick up a bag of plain "lentils" and compare the two. They were identical, and brown, with a bit of a pinkish-greenish-orangish tinge to them. I wasn't going to pay "box-of-premium-cereal-price" simply because the label told me these were special lentils. I don't know if there really is such a thing as green lentils, because I made this soup with regular old brown lentils, and found myself immersed in a bowl of gorgeous soupy-goodness.

It was Andy who looked at me and asked if the soup would be considered flexitarian. When I informed him that there was no meat in this soup, he was surprised. I was surprised, actually, because there was this fruity smokiness within the soup that is usually reserved for soups with a bit of sausage or bacon in it. In short, we were hooked. We each had two bowls of this beautiful lentil soup, it was that good. It was delicious and full of depth, and definitely worth the trouble to make sure I had all the ingredients on hand. My only deviations were to use double concentrate tomato paste, and I completely left off the splash of red wine and Parmesan at the end. It totally didn't need it- it was wonderful just as it was with a wedge of soft whole-wheat bread. This French Lentil and Vegetable Soup is a star, and will most certainly be repeated- and it's most definitely company worthy. The picture above is of Zander helping me weigh the right amount of lentils, and I also should mention that I think you could use a roasted vegetable or mushroom broth to good effect as well.

French Lentil and Vegetable Soup

by Ina Garten
Serving Size : 12

16 ounces lentils -- Small French green lentils are preferred over the larger brown ones.
boiling water
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 large onions -- chopped
3 cloves garlic -- minced
2 large leeks -- white and tender green parts only, chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon ground cumin
8 whole celery ribs -- chopped
6 medium carrots -- diced into 1/2" pieces
3 quarts chicken broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons dry red wine -- or red wine vinegar

In a large heatproof bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot (at least 5 quart size). Add onions, garlic, leeks, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Add the carrots and celery and cook until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, lentils, and tomato paste to the pot. Increase the heat to high, cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are very tender (about 1 hour).

Stir in red wine and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil if desired, and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan.

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