Friday, January 21, 2011

Lentil Soup for a Small Planet

Lentil Soup topped with melted Swiss Cheese - in this case a reduced fat Lorraine.

I've been cranking out a lot of soup lately - partly because it's so darn cold, and partly because Dave is a soup junkie. If you give him an option, during the winter months, he'll pick soup first. If you ask him for suggestions as to what he'd like for dinner, he pops up with soup as first choice - invariably.

Wash your lentils well.  Drain and gather up carrots, onion, and aromatics

 Perhaps Dave's broth-based culinary addiction stems from his childhood. His mother was a maker of various types of hardy soups - probably because she had eight mouths to feed -- every day -- day in day out.  With so many mouths and a limited amount of money, soup fitted the family's requirements for good food served up with a healthy dose of frugality.

Chop carrots and onion

Dave's father made a really delicious vegetable beef soup using ground beef as it's meat component.  Loads of veggies, lots of tomato juice, just the right amount of salt and pepper. It was delicious.

Saute onions and carrots.  Add Thyme and bay leaf, salt and pepper.

But, I'm more of a veggie-oriented gal.  I make many a soup, like my mother before me, with little or no meat.  I figure all that meat can't be good for you, or the animal from which it was procured (trying to be polite here. It's not that I'm a vegetarian, not by any stretch.  It's just that I know where my meat comes from and have great respect for the animal that gave it's all so that I could have bacon once in awhile.)

Add your washed lentils to the mix.  I use Goya brown lentils but green would be just fine.

When I was in college, I was broke. I worked two jobs to help pay my way through. That's not to say that it was a sob story.  I had a very good time while in school. But my pecuniary circumstances gave me a pretty healthy respect for the buck. When you're making ten percent above minimum wage, a dollar looms pretty large in your thinking. Therefore, to stretch a buck as far as possible, I made soup every Saturday and stretched it out through the week.  It is a tradition I continue today - just because it's a habit.

This soup is a particular favorite. I love it so much so that it was the first dish I cooked for my host family when I moved to Luxembourg during my Junior year to go to school.

Mix lentils, vegetables, and crush your tomatoes, if necessary.

So, as a final soup offering, at least for awhile maybe, I present a recipe I've adapted from Frances Moore Lappe's  Diet for a Small Planet.  It is vegetarian.  It is loaded with protein, anti-oxidants and flavor.  It is cheap and easy.  And, it's made from my favorite legume - lentils - a protein-rich super food.  What's not to like?

Add crushed tomatoes to vegetable mixture. Then cover vegs with water and simmer for 40 minutes or until lentils are tender.
The heady aroma of sauteing carrots and onions mingling with thyme and dry vermouth is one of my  great olfactory pleasures.  It takes me back to the days of living in a one room university apartment, cooking on a two burner stove.  It was a great time and this is a great soup. So please enjoy my stroll down memory lane.

This makes a nice soup and cools down into a more stew-like consistency. Serve this with Swiss cheese melted on top and a nice crusty bread on the side to complete the protein.  The cheese adds a wonderfully nutty richness to the dish.

Lentil Soup for a Small Planet
Adapted from Frances Lappe's Diet For A Small Planet

Serves 6

1 pound brown or green lentils, washed thoroughly and drained
1 Tbsp olive or canola oil
4 large carrots sliced into coins
1 large onion, diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 to 1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
1/2 cup dry vermouth
2 cups crushed tomatoes
2 quarts water
1 slice Swiss cheese per serving

In a large dutch oven, heat oil until shimmering. Add carrots and onions, sauteing until tender.  Add bay leaf, thyme, salt, pepper,  continuing to saute for a minute longer. 
Add dry vermouth, stirring until most of the wine is evaporated.
Add tomatoes, and water, mixing thoroughly.
Bring to a simmer and cover tightly, cooking for 40 minutes or until lentils are tender.
Adjust seasonings

When ready to serve, place hot lentil soup in oven proof bowl.  
Top each serving with a slice of Swiss cheese.  
Place bowl under the broiler and broil until cheese melts and becomes bubbly.
Serve with a nice crusty whole grain bread to complete the protein chain of the lentils.

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