Lentil Soup, Lightly Spiced


OK, so maybe I lied a little. I did make something new the other night, though admittedly it was a riff on something I’d made before: a lentil soup/stew.

Let me backtrack. Last week I ordered a ‘mystery box’ from Mariquita Farms, knowing there might be a few things in there with which I might be unsure. Thursday night we drove way the hell over to Protrero Hill to pick it up, and as I hefted the bag into the back of the truck I was excited, even before I knew exactly what I was getting into. It was heavy. There was a lot of stuff. I couldn’t wait to get started.

The haul included

red carrots
baby carrots
some sort of chard-like green
some sort of lettuce-like green
some sort of spicy Italian green
a few other things I forget

(all for $25!)

Because life gets busy, we didn’t have a chance to even look at all the vegetables until the weekend (the bag was crammed into the bottom shelf of the fridge until then), though it hovered in the back of my mind. And now, while we’ve delved into it a bit, it will be awhile until all the stuff is gone; note to self: next time, maybe ask for less?

I roasted the turnips with some leftover purple potatoes (should have mashed them, though; next time) and added the parsley to salads. I’m still planning on how to use the fennel. The red carrots will taste gorgeous in a sesame-seed-flecked batch of carrot salad lightly flavored with soy sauce, and while I’m not sure yet how I’ll do the rapini, I’m sure it will be delicious, too. Ah, fresh, local, organic produce! What I wouldn’t do for you …

On Tuesday, after I bemoaned my not trying anything new in awhile, I made a lentil dish that bridged the gap — a twist on an old favorite, and updated to fit my more, errr, veg-heavy and seasonal cooking style (I always used to make big pots of lentils with onions and spinach which is quite nice, but a bit dull, and lately I’ve neglected the lovely lentil altogether, and for no good reason). I used only what I had in the fridge, which came courtesy of the ‘mystery box,’ and some garlic sent all the way from an organic farm in Maine. I stirred it all together with some organic lentils from my market up the street and lo, it was good.

I’m not one for too spicy — I’m that person who goes for Indian and asks um, err, can it not be too strong?, to the embarrassment of her dining companions. But I threw in a bit of cayenne and curry powder because when the sun went down the wind coming through the open windows was cool, and I wanted a bit of warmth to liven things. This, along with the pungent garlic and a few leeks, gave the soup just enough to get a little lingering kick, but it was still do-able (read: not too spicy) for wimps like me.

And lentils! Why did I neglect you for so long? J’adore, and I’m sorry I forgot. We’ve had a long history together, for sure; for a dinner party almost exactly four years ago I made braised lentils (are they called ‘French lentils’? The small, black ones) with pearl onions and a red wine reduction, from Deborah Madison’s inspiring Local Flavors , and there were no leftovers. I’ve also made the aforementioned pots of lentil-and-spinach soup, and sometimes just lentils and onions and garlic, served over mashed sweet potatoes with sesame oil (delicious). I’ve had lentils in lasagne, made lentils draped over roasted butternut squash, red lentil-and-apricot-soup … Lentils were my go-to vegetarian staple for a long time; perhaps that’s why I needed a little break, to come back to them with a new appreciation.

Because this soup is good. It’s hearty yet light at the same time, and you’ll feel quite virtuous with all those vegetables. The chard cooked up quick as a flash and became tender and melting; it slipped down ever so smoothly. The leeks and garlic are cooked first with the spices, which means you don’t have to use a vegetable stock unless you’re dying to — they give just enough delicate flavor to save the soup from blandness. The carrots add a bit more, and then a hefty sprinkling of salt and pepper at the end seals the deal.

We had our bowls of soup with a fresh green salad and slices of a whole-wheat walnut loaf spread with hummus (made using plenty of that delicious garlic), but I bet a nice brie on that bread — or butter and sliced radishes, with a bit of salt — would be lovely as well.


Lentil soup

2 cups green lentils, rinsed well in cold water
6 cups water or broth
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 leeks, thinly sliced
3 carrots, diced
1-2 large bunches chard, washed and chopped
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Sauté the garlic and leeks in about 3 Tb. of olive oil over medium heat until they begin to soften. Add the carrots and a splash of red wine if you have a bottle handy. Add a splash of water. Cook until carrots begin to soften slightly.

Add the lentils and stir for a few moments. Add the water or broth and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat; simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the chard, stirring well until it wilts. Taste the lentils — they should be firm, but not hard. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve very hot.

Note: You could substitute another leafy green here (such as spinach, or even collards) but remember that cooking time might differ depending on what green you use.

nicole spiridakis © copyright 2023