Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Lentil Soup is an new favorite!

Arabic style Lentil Soup
It's no secret that I love lentils. I like lentil loaf, lentils in soups, lentils in stews, lentils with rice in a pilaf... I just like lentils! I love that they come in different colors, and that their dusky flavor lends itself so well to pairing with strong tastes like ham.

Diced onions
I ran across Laila's Arabic Lentil Soup while on Pinterest the other day, and I just had to try the recipe. Since I was on my own, and the recipe claimed to make only two bowls of soup, that seemed just about right. However, I like a little meat in my soups, and so I modified the recipe to please myself. The result was fantastic, and I had to share it with you!

Carrots and garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • handful of sliced brown mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup dried brown lentils
  • 3/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 4 oz cooked ham, diced

Vegetables cooking in the pot
Add the olive oil to a soup pot and bring it to a medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until it becomes soft. It took about five minutes for me, but it will depend on your pot, the temperature you're using, and your stove. I moved on while the onion was still slightly undercooked, but that is how I prefer my onion. You may want to cook until it's quite limp, or go for less time, depending on your tastes.

Lentils and cumin added
Add the garlic, ham, mushrooms and carrots and continue to cook for about 3 minutes. You might need to add a drizzle more olive oil, depending. The whole thing will become extremely good smelling as it cooks, and even if you only use one clove of garlic, it will still smell up the house in a lovely way. Add in the lentils and cumin, then stir while cooking for another minute or so. By sautéing the lentils with the vegetables, you're coating them in olive oil, which will allow them to cook better. This trick works with rice, too!

Add the water
Into the pot, add three cups of hot tap water. Sprinkle the salt and pepper on top, then bring the soup to a low boil. As soon as the boil has been reached, turn down the heat to a medium low and simmer for about 30 minutes. I suggest checking every ten minutes or so, as the lentils can absorb a lot of water. It's possible for your pot to run dry, which will result in something inedible and scorched instead of a lovely soup. Set your timer and check often, stirring when you check. If the soup needs more water, go ahead and add it, though not more than a half cup at a time. Adding a whole cup seems to water it down a bit much for my tastes.

The finished soup
Once the lentils are cooked, you are ready to move on. The lentils should still be holding their shape, but should be soft enough that they mash easily. If they're even a bit crunchy, cook longer in ten minute intervals. When they are ready, use a potato masher to smash up your pot's contents. Continue doing so until you've created a soup of the consistency you like. I enjoy having actual broth rather than mush, unlike the rest of my family, so I only spent about a minute mashing. The mashing releases the flavors of the lentils, which blend incredibly well with the cumin.

Paired with garlic bread
This is such a simple soup. It doesn't require a lot of time or attention, and it has very few ingredients. However, it's huge on flavor, and it tastes much more complex than it is. I paired the soup with some garlic cibiatta bread that I had on hand, which I drizzled with olive oil then sprinkled with good quality sea salt and broiled for a minute. The result was crispy and delicious, warm through, and a perfect foil for the hearty softness of the soup.

The soup is so simple that it's easy to get carried away with adding things. I found myself eying it in the pot with skepticism as it cooked. I thought, wouldn't it just be wonderful if I slipped a wee bit of potato in there? How about a sprinkle of fresh herbs? Surely it would taste even better with some slivers of turnip? I resisted, however, and I'm glad I did. The only thing I might add in the future to this, would be a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream or half and half, right at the end. I love creamy soups, especially ones that start with a good olive oil, and that little bit of cream would lighten up the color to a beautiful caramel shade. Since the soup is so simple, the addition of the cream would not overpower it, and would still allow the natural flavors to shine through.

What sort of things would you be tempted to add to this simple yet hearty meal?

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