21 February 2010

Lentil Minestrone Soup

It's a delightfully sunny day here in Austin (I'm writing this outside, barefoot, and in a t-shirt) but it's been cloudy and cold for days now. Perfect soup weather. Which is why I whipped up this lentil soup on Friday and have been enjoying it ever since.

Although they tend to wreak havoc on my digestive system (sorry, TMI, I know), I really love lentils and I eat them anyway. As beany things go, they take such little effort--no soaking required--and they cook up in no time which is a major plus in my book. I learned not too long ago that there are several different varieties of lentils available. The common brown lentils that you can get in a bag at the grocery store are the ones I'm most familiar with. They tend to soften a lot and break apart as they cook making them great for thick lentil soup. French green lentils are smaller and stay more intact when cooked--I like using them for salads and I chose them for this soup because I wanted it to be more minestrone-like and brothy. But really, any lentil will do.

This recipe comes from Deborah Madison's
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, a great inspiration source for vegetable recipes for both veggies and meat-eaters alike. Although I pretty much followed the recipe to a T (!! perhaps a first!!!), it's ripe for improvisation. Toss in a few more veggies if you have some hanging around (I added mushrooms). Meat eaters might want to saute some chopped pancetta in with the veggies or some fresh sausage. Spice variations would be just fine too--I'd definitely recommend the addition of some crushed red pepper or fresh peppers for some spice. Like most any soup, this one gets better with age so enjoy it the day after you cook it, and the next day, and the next...

(4-6 servings)

2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra to finish
2 cups finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 carrots, diced
1 cup diced celery
salt and pepper
1 cup French green lentils, sorted through for rocks and rinsed
Aromatics: 2 bay leaves, 8 parsley branches, 6 thyme sprigs
9 cups water or veggie stock (I used water)
Mushroom soy sauce to taste (didn't use)
1 bunch greens (I used chard but could use mustard, broccoli rabe, spinach, kale)
2 cups cooked small pasta (shells, orecchiette, etc.)
shaved or grated Parmesan

Heat the oil in soup pot with the onion. Saute over high heat, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 10 mins. Add tomato paste, parsely, garlic, vegetables, and 2 teaspoons salt and cook 3 minutes. Add lentils, aromatics, and water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer partially covered for 30 mins. Taste for salt and add pepper. Add soy sauce to taste. (soup may taste a little bland at this point but it gets more flavorful w/time). Remove from heat and remove aromatics.

Boil the greens in salted water until they're tender and bright green. Remove, drain, and chop coarsely. Just before serving add the cooked pasta and greens to the soup and heat through. Serve w/cheese and olive oil drizzle, fresh herbs to taste.

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