Quick! I need soup! I had this rather urgent thought this morning when I checked the thermostat and it read 61 degrees for the internal temperature of my dining room. I’m resisting turning the heat on in my house just yet, since it warms up with the mid-day temperatures anyway, and I sleep better with a little chill in the air under multiple blankets, socks, a long-sleeve sleep shirt and a purring cat laying across my head. This cat, named Tot.
But still, even with Tot to warm me, a quick little soup wouldn’t hurt.
And that’s what this is: an easy-to-prep, 30-minutes-on-the-stove and it’s done, delicious, hearty soup. Try a cup of this instead of a cup of coffee at 3 pm and you’ll have tons of energy and warmth without the nerve jangle. Try this for dinner with a salad and hunk of bread (or not the bread if you are carb-phobic and wheat-intolerant like me) and you’ll pat yourself on the back for bringing such a healthy, delicious meal to the table in no time at all. Put it in a thermos and bring it to work to save money and time, (take a walk in the park instead of standing on line for take out), and get huge brownie points for having lunch at your desk, while making the office smell wonderful.
The other good thing about this soup is that, aside from the red lentils, you may already have everything you need to make this in your pantry and fridge. And if you have green lentils on hand, you can use them, but just know that the cooking time to get the green ones soft and exploding is just a bit longer. Green is good, but you won’t get that reddish/orange color that makes this so autumn-y, but it will still be yummy. For more autumn color I added some butternut squash I had in the fridge, that I didn’t use up last week for the Roasted Root Vegetable Tzimmes. My local big chain grocery store did not have red lentils in the normal dried bean section, but I was able to find them in the “healthy/organic” isle where they have bulk items you can buy by weight. They are sometimes referred to as “split red lentils” too.
Now, I normally make this soup totally vegetarian, but my friend, Tanya, whom I mentioned last post from Wired For Wine, gave me this gargantuan organic, naturally cured, no nitrates, imported Pancetta from Fra’Mani for my birthday, (September 30…not too late to send wishes as I’m celebrating being alive all month!), and what am I supposed to do, just ignore it? I’m forced to have Italian cured ham deliciousness in everything I make for the next few weeks, whether I like it or not! (I do! I do!) So I will write the pancetta in to the recipe because it does give a nice smoky, Umami layer of flavor, but I do love the soup without it too…or for those who want this flavor, and don’t eat pork, I’ve also made a very delicious version with turkey bacon.
And when it’s done, after only 25 minutes simmering on the stove, you take about half of the soup and blend it to a velvety consistency, and then pour it back into the chunky part of the soup left in the pot. The result of this is a creamy soup, without any cream, that still has some texture and color and bite. A dollup of sour cream, seasoned with a little salt and black pepper is totally optional, but highly recommended for that added “mmmmmm” factor with every slurp.
Red Lentil Soup
1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup finely chopped pancetta, or bacon, or turkey bacon (optional)
1 diced onion, ¼ inch pieces
2 garlic cloves minced or pressed.
2 large celery ribs, ¼ inch dice
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into ¼ inch dice ( or use half a bag of baby carrots, sliced into rounds)
1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1½ cups butternut or acorn squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 rounded cup of red lentils (8 ounces)
2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock (recommended: organic, low-sodium)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
¼ – ½ teaspoon cayenne (to taste)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over moderate flame. If you are using meat, add smoked meat (pancetta, bacon or turkey bacon) to the heated oil and allow some of the fat to render (become liquid), and for the meat to brown to a crispy texture, about 8 minutes.
2. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and “sweat” onions until softer and translucent, about 4 minutes, without browning them. Add the garlic, cook until fragrant but do not allow to brown. Add the celery and carrots and cook over moderate heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring often.
3. When the carrots look bright in color and have softened just a bit, add the potato and lentils and stir to coat them in the sweated vegetables and fat. Add the stock; bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium/low. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are very tender and the lentils have burst.
4. Using a blender, puree half of the soup. (Or use an immersion blender in the pot itself, .). Return soup to saucepan. Add the cumin, cayenne and lemon juice and taste. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and serve with a drizzle of fine olive oil, a few drops of chili oil for added kick, or a dollop of sour cream.