Lentil soup is much-maligned for good reason. It was a kind of flag-sh*t for the horrible “health food” prepared by 60’s and 70’s hippies who refused to microwave an establishment TV-dinner, but also had no idea how to cook. In mixed company, its taste is credibly described as “grey” or “I’d rather not.”
But that’s just the weight of historical materialism bearing down on our palates. Let’s shrug this off, comrades! Judging by the staggering number of available lentil recipes (note: I do not say ‘freely’ available… Google is a questionable ally of the proletariat), there really is an end to history, and that is a damn good thing.
Lentils are, for lack of a better word, lovely. They are, according to the San Francisco Chronicle (surprise, surprise), “a good source of potassium, calcium, zinc, niacin and vitamin K, but are particularly rich in dietary fiber, lean protein, folate and iron.” Oh, they also taste amazing and come in DOZENS of different varieties. Maybe this is why humans from everywhere have been eating them as domesticated crops for about 13,000 years.
As such, you can have a lentil soup every which way from Sunday. Better yet, provided you give this potent little pulse the flavor-foundation it deserves, it’ll likely be quite delicious. I’ve made loads of lentil soups over the years, and the one I made tonight isn’t frankly all that special within that canon. It just plays by a few rules that are worth remembering. Here’s a rough sketch of (my) rules, which await your adaptation, improvement, and general rhapsody:
- Choose the right lentil: some cook straight into paste, while some stay firm; some taste nutty, white others taste sweet. When overcooked, they almost all taste like chalk. Keep an eye on that. I personally keep two main types in my pantry: red, for a softer or mushier texture, and green for a firmer or toothier texture.
- The Holy Trinity Giveth Life: mince up a mirepoix, slice up a soffritto, do what you must – building a good flavor base of aromatics and sugary root vegetables will give you a sturdy foundation on which your lentils can stand, resplendent in all their glory
- Have some herbs handy: certain herbs really amplify the flavor of lentils. European classics include bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme. Parsley and sage work well, too. Although I always prefer using them fresh, they work quite well when dried, if added at the end of the vegetable sautée yet before the liquid
- Spices, spices, spices: similarly, there are dozens, maybe hundreds of spices that pair well with lentils, acting as their complement rather than their flavor-beard. Hot and earthy flavors, such as red pepper and cumin, are natural bedfellows – use them liberally
- Don’t rush it, but don’t ignore it either: although lentils can be cooked in as little as 20 or 30 minutes, they should be left to simmer long enough to both break down their proteins a bit (thus releasing all their wonderful flavor) and to take in taste from whatever you’re cooking them in. Likewise, when they overcook, they (like many things) lose all their flavor, burst, and turn into something really sad. Just keep an eye on them, and taste along the way.
- Dress up for the main event: don’t hesitate to garnish the soup at the end with something that speaks to your flavors! A dollop of créme fraîche if it’s spicy, or a whack of balsamic if it’s savory – olive oil’s always a good idea! It could be the best day of the year, if you treat yo self.
So here’s to lorry-loads of luscious lentils with you lot in the future… which, as we have learned, is also the past, at least from a dietary perspective.
Tuesday’s Lentil Soup
- some carrots, minced up
- red or white onion, minced up
- a bit of tomato paste
- thyme & rosemary
- ~ 1 cup of speckled green lentils
- flaked red pepper
- espelette pepper or paprika
- balsamic vinegar
Order of operations:
- sautée the mirepoix
- add the garlic/spices and fry for a minute, along with thickeners like tomato paste
- deglaze the pan with some liquid (could even be wine!)
- add in the lentils with enough liquid (could be stock or water) to cover, along with any fresh herbs
- simmer until you reach your nirvana or texture and flavor; decide at this juncture if you want to purée it a bit – sometimes, that’s nice
- finish with your chosen piéce de résistance, be it honey, vinegar, dairy product, or other thing we haven’t thought of yet
- know you’re making, consuming, and eventually disposing of 13,000 years of human history
While cooking I listened to: an important coming-together of history’s leading philosophical minds, and a fair little bit of Michael McDonald, but you probably figured that out already…