For me, especially when I'm focusing on my health or losing weight, there is nothing more comforting than having many containers of this nourishing, delicious, filling lentil soup with chicken stashed away in the freezer. Lentil soup is actually the very first dish I learned to cook, and I am still amazed at how easy it is to make something so much better than you get from a can. I'm also sentimental about this soup, so it will probably always be among my favorite things to make.
I do prefer using bacon fat here. I spend extra on premium bacon so I always strain and save the rendered fat for making this soup. The smoky flavor it brings to the soup is a great complement to the earthy lentils, but butter and olive oil also work well.
Get a recipe: How To Make Perfect Bacon in the Oven
For a vegetarian version, just leave out the chicken and bacon fat (use olive oil instead). I've made it that way many times. The shredded chicken just adds a meaty texture and an extra dose of protein.
Chicken Lentil Soup
Serves 8 to 10
bacon fat, butter, or olive oil
large onion, diced
medium stalks celery, diced
medium carrots, diced
cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
(3 quarts) low-sodium chicken broth or water
French dried lentils
boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, for serving (optional)
Heat the bacon fat, butter, or olive oil in the bottom of a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, and garlic. Season the vegetables well with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat the vegetables. Cook until the tomato paste darkens and sticks a bit to the bottom of the pot, about 2 minutes more.
Add the chicken broth or water and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer and add the chicken. Cover and continue cooking for 1 hour, checking periodically to make sure the soup isn't bubbling too vigorously. Transfer the chicken thighs to a plate to cool.
Working in batches, blend about half of the lentil soup until it's thick and creamy. (You can blend all of it if you like a creamy lentil soup, or none of it if you want it completely broth-y. I like it somewhere in the middle.) Stir the puréed soup back into the pot. Using 2 forks, shred the chicken and return it to the pot. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve with cheese sprinkled over the top if desired.
Rotisserie chicken shortcut: Replace the chicken thighs with 2 cups shredded chicken from a store-bought rotisserie chicken. Add the shredded chicken after puréeing and simmer just long enough to warm the chicken.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.