Brown Bag Thursday: Start with Progresso Lentil Soup

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Enough with turkey wraps, soup shops, and sexy salad joints. There has to be a quick way to make something better at home and bring it in to work, rather than lining up at the over-crowded and over-priced lunch spots that fill midtown Manhattan.

In last week's New York Times Food section, Julia Moskin shared a tip: Progresso Lentil Soup makes a good base for a lunch. "Spike it with cumin, hot sauce and lemon juice, and stir in leftover rice to bulk it up into lunch," she suggested. While I usually question cooking from cans, I decided a semi-homemade lunch, Sandra Lee style, is better than another meatball sandwich from Subway.

I started with a can of Progresso Lentil Soup, labeled Vegetable Classics 99% Fat Free. The soup was $2.49 at my local Key Food. Fresh Direct also carries the soup in traditional or low fat for $2.39. I took a taste right out of the can and decided I could doctor it up. These lentils tasted almost as good as the far more expensive French vacuum packed lentils from Fairway.

I washed and finely chopped about six leaves of kale, discarding the toughest parts of the stems. I heated olive oil in a pan big enough to hold the kale. When the oil was hot, I added two chopped garlic cloves. Once the garlic was softened, I added the kale to the hot oil. I cooked the kale down for five minutes and poured the canned lentil soup on top. I tasted for seasoning and was glad to add some salt; usually canned soup is so salty. I lowered the heat to medium and let the kale and spinach cook together for five more minutes, watching to make sure the lentils didn't start to break down.

I packed my soup in a plastic take-out container I'd saved. I also brought half a lemon cut into wedges to squeeze into the soup and a hard boiled egg.

The verdict? The lemons added a bright flavor so my soup didn't taste canned at all. Next time I'll bring some left over rice to make it more filling. Soup is not the most travel friendly food out there and the next time I take it to work, it needs to be in something sturdier than a recycled take-out container. From bento boxes to Bed, Bath & Beyond, I'm off to shop for a better way to bring lunch to work.

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