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For weeks, there has been a sack of lentils staring me down from the top shelf of one of our kitchen cupboards. So this week, I made soup.
It was inexpensive and delicious. There was no shopping for ingredients because I used what I had. There were some vegetables going a bit south in the fridge (cauliflower, some zucchini, and bundle of wilting kale) and I happened to have some nice Niman Ranch bacon.
Of course, lentil soup can be made for vegetarians — just skip the bacon and swap chicken stock for vegetable stock or water. The red pepper flakes are there because I like a zingy lentil soup, but of course these are also optional.
This recipe yields a lot of soup, but it's easily halved or quartered. Better yet, make the whole recipe and freeze what you can't eat. It's going to be a long winter, but at least we can make it a delicious one.
Fridge-Clearing Lentil Soup
Makes 10-12 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil 1 large onion (of any color), chopped 5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped 1/4 pound chopped bacon, pancetta or ham, optional Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper 1/2" - 1" knob ginger, peeled and minced 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, optional 2 bay leaves 1 pound dried green lentils, picked over and rinsed 4 - 6 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes 4 cups chopped fridge-cleared vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, leafy greens, etc.)
Yogurt, sour cream or crème fraîche plus chopped herbs and/or chopped onion for garnish
In a large soup pot (6 quart capacity or more), heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion 1-2 minutes until softening, then add garlic and bacon. Add a teaspoon or so of salt and a few cranks of pepper. Cook until bacon browns a bit, another minute or so. Add the ginger, optional red pepper flakes, bay leaves, and lentils. Pour over enough stock to cover. Raise the heat to bring to a boil then lower to a simmer over medium low heat and cover.
If adding hard vegetables like carrots, add them after 15 minutes. This is also when to add the tomatoes. If adding medium-hard vegetables like cauliflower or squash, add after 20 minutes. If adding leafy greens, add when lentils are almost cooked through.
Cook a total of 30-40 minutes, checking in every 10 minutes to stir the pot. Soup is done when lentils and vegetables are tender, but not falling apart. If soup needs more liquid at any time, stir in a cup or two. (It should look like thick soup, but not like thick chili.) When consistency is right, check for seasoning and adjust as needed. Fish out the bay leaves and discard or compost.
For a smoother soup, blend some or all of it in a blender (careful when the soup is hot to blend in small batches.) Return the blended soup to the pot and stir. After blending it may need more liquid. It also will probably need more liquid after cooling and reheated as leftovers.
Garnish with a dollop of yogurt and or chopped onion or herbs.