I’m a huge fan of adaptable pantry recipes - meals that allow me to make as few trips to the grocery store as possible and just cook according to what I have on hand. Lentil soup is a great one for this, as you can make it with whatever is in your fridge and it will still taste warming and hearty, as well as unutterably delicious (this is doubly true if you make a batch of warm biscuits or cornbread to eat alongside the soup!)
I don’t really use recipes when I’m making lentil soup as you really can make it with whatever happens to be wilting in your crisper drawer, but let me give you some of the basic guidelines and then move on to what I made today.
BASIC LENTIL SOUP
Sautee some diced aromatic vegetables in olive oil, and then brown some sort of flavorful meat. Deglaze the pan with some wine or broth (scrape up and burned bits on the bottom of the pan, this is flavor central!) Toss in a cup or more of diced vegetables, as well as a can of tomatoes/tomato sauce/tomato paste. Pour in a cup of dry lentils and cover all of this with broth or water by about an inch. Take this opportunity to add whatever herbs and spices you think would be tasty. Cover and let simmer for 45 minutes or so, stirring every once in a while (add more water or broth if it gets too thick). Stir in a tablespoon of neutral vinegar. Feel virtuous as you eat 3 bowls full.
So easy! I tend to do this on Saturday mornings while Daniel is playing video games for us to eat for lunch the whole weekend. Later I can sit on the couch and read while I watch him clean up my mess. It is a very fair system.
Feel like you need a little more guidance? Read on for today’s lentil soup recipe, which is simmering as I type!
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large diced onion
1 diced fennel bulb
4 cloves minced garlic
4 diced carrots
3 links Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
½ cup white wine
1 cup diced tomatoes (or tomato sauce, whatever tomatoey substance you have on hand!)
Approximately 4 cups of water or broth (enough to cover by an inch)
3 bay leaves
1 tsp dry thyme
1 cup dry lentils
Dash of red chile flakes (optional, but not if you live with Daniel)
1 bunch of chopped kale, ribs removed
1 Tbs neutral vinegar (don’t skip this! It won’t make it vinegary, just makes it have a little something extra)
salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large pot on medium heat. Sautee the onions and fennel until they are softened and maybe a bit brown (NOTE: if you are adapting this, some other ideas for aromatics are bell peppers, celery, shallots, leeks...I used fennel because my CSA won’t stop sending it to me and onion because I think it is sacrilige to cook without onions. Not really, but they’re so darn tasty). I also like adding salt and pepper to the aromatics as I think it layers the flavors nicely, though if you’re using canned broth you might not need it -- that stuff can be salty enough on it’s own.
Add the sausage links and break them up as they cook. When they’re about half cooked, add the minced garlic and the carrots/whatever vegetables you like. When the sausage is cooked through, pour in the wine and deglaze the pan - the wine helps pick up the browned, flavorful bits.
Add the lentils, tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, chile flakes and enough broth or water to cover the soup by about an inch. Cover and let simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally, until the lentils and vegetables are cooked through. About 10 minutes before it’s done (40 minutes in), stir in the chopped kale and let it cook alongside everything else. Adjust the salt and pepper according to taste. Stir in the vinegar and take it off the heat. Remove the bay leaves before digging in.