Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hearty Lentil Soup

This is a recipe based on 'Lentil Minestrone' from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I often quip that this is my 'desert island cookbook'. (I'm not sure if there is an equivalent here, but BBC Radio has a programme called Desert Island Discs in which celebrities talk about the 10 albums (or tracks) they would take with them if stranded on a desert island. So, VCfE is my desert island cookbook, smoked paprika is my desert-island condiment, pork is my desert island meat, you get the idea). It's a hefty tome full of wonderful recipes. The desserts, in particular, are great, which I wouldn't necessarily have expected.

At any rate, I don't call my version 'minestrone' because I choose not to use pasta in it. Instead, I've historically used brown rice. This last time, I used barley, in particular this stuff called 'purple prairie barley' that I got at PCC. It's a hull-less barely (meaning not pearled and actually containing more of the hull than pearled barley) with which I had much more success than usual hull-less or pot barley.

I make a few other changes to the recipe such as cooking the greens right in the soup rather than adding cooked greens. I also am sure I mess with the amounts of onion, garlic, carrot, etc based on what I have in the house. Come to think of it, I may even add smoked paprika to this recipe from time to time, or a slug of red wine vinegar for brightness.

The recipe doubles well and is great for new moms: our friend Melanie made it for us, I made it for her family after her second, and just made it for one new mom and a mom-to-be.

2 TBSP olive oil
2 cups onion, finely chopped
2 TBSP tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 garlic cloves, chopped or put through a press
3 carrots, diced
1 cup diced celery or celery root (celeriac)
2 tsp salt
1 cup French (puy) lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 cup brown rice or barley (quinoa might work, or kasha could be really good)
1 bouquet garni of 2 bay leave, 8 parsley branches (I often omit these), 6 thyme sprigs
9-12 cups water or vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
1 bunch greens, washed and chopped
Mushroom soy sauce to taste (we got our at 99 Ranch Market, but I'm sure regular soy would work; I bet that some brewer's yeast might be nice, too, actually)

  1. In a large soup pot, heat the oil and add the onion. Cook over high heat (I think I do medium-high) for about 10 minutes, stirring often. The onions should be slightly browned.
  2. Add the tomato paste, garlic, parsley, vegetables and salt and cook for 2 more minutes
  3. Add the lentils, bouquet garni, rice, barely, quinoa or kasha and water/stock. Because I recommend that you add the grain uncooked instead of adding cooked pasta, you may need to increase the amount of water/stock. My general rule is to add water to cover the ingredients by 1-2 inches. You can always add more water/stock if it seems that the grain doesn't have enough liquid to soften
  4. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Madison recommends cooking for 30 minutes, but your grain may take longer--the barley certainly will. The good news is that puy lentils hold their shape beautifully and won't disintegrate even with a longer cooking time. If using a grain, I'd recommend checking for tenderness at 30 minutes and then add time accordingly.
  5. When the grain is nearly done, taste for seasoning. Add salt, pepper as needed. You could also add some mushroom or regular soy sauce or brewer's yeast, vinegar or smoked paprika. Madison cautions that the flavors will meld and get nicer over time--the soup tastes better the next day.
  6. Add the washed, chopped greens and let them cook for 10 minutes or so. They might not be as bright green, but it saves a step and a pot and has always worked well for me.
  7. Serve with Delicious, Crusty Bread or Drop Biscuits

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