Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lentil Soup with Walnuts and Cream

Now this is what I call a great meal for a weeknight! I love the other Deborah Madison lentil soup recipe I published, and it is hardly difficult, but the one I'm publishing now is even easier. This one comes from her Vegetable Soups cookbook, another gem. The only thing you have to chop is an onion and yet the soup is full of flavor. The first time I made it, I thought the flavor came from the rich, smoked turkey stock we used. This time, though, I only had 4 cups of homemade chicken stock and used water for the remaining 2 cups. The soup was still surprisingly robust. I think this is due to two things: the butter used to saute the onion, and the bay leaf that you saute along with that onion in the butter. I hadn't used this technique before, but I think that the flavor of the bay is released by the this treatment. I also found that the soup improved in flavor the next day.

In my usual fashion, I changed the recipe by adding some ground greens (Russian kale, in this case). They didn't detract at all from the subtle yet hearty flavor of the soup, and may well have added to it.

Madison is a strong advocate of soaking lentils. This is something I almost never do, but I do for this soup (mainly because she reminds one to do so right in the recipe). She believes that the lentils are more flavorful after soaking, so perhaps in the end this is the real reason the soup taste so good despite its simplicity. Any amount of soaking time will be good, she says, but 2 hours is optimal (she didn't say anything about a longer soak--I would think if you wanted a really long soak, say from morning until dinner time or overnight, you should keep them in the fridge).

I really like the pounded walnut topping that Madison suggests with this soup, though if I'm feeling lazy I won't bother with it. (In fact, it's this topping that makes me wanted to try a walnut version of my Everyday Pasta for Spring and Summer). I found this time that I wanted more walnut flavor in the soup, so next time, I might be tempted to put ground, toasted walnuts and garlic directly into it. I'll post about it if I try this variation.

This is another one that got the Elspeth seal of approval, though she tends to get full after a small portion.

INGREDIENTS
2 c. lentils, picked over and rinsed (I use Puy lentils)
1 onion, finely diced
2-4 TBSP unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
6 c. chicken, turkey or vegetable stock or water (if you haven't soaked your lentils, expect to use up to 2 cups additional water)
1 bunch greens, washed and ground up in a food processor (or very finely chopped)

WALNUT SAUCE INGREDIENTS
1 garlic clove, finely diced or put through a press
1/3 c. toasted walnuts
1/3 c. crème fraîche or cream (I actually used strained yogurt)
Dash of salt (Madison doesn't call for this, but I think it could use it)
Parsley for garnish (I put the parsley straight into the garlic, walnuts and yogurt)

DIRECTIONS
  1. After picking through the lentils and discarding any stones or debris, soak them for one to two hours, then rinse and proceed with the recipe
  2. Melt the butter in a large sauce pan or soup pot (I used our 5 quart and there was plenty of room)
  3. Add the onion and bay leaf and saute over medium high heat for 5 or so minutes, until the onion is soft but not browned
  4. Add the lentils, salt and stock and bring to a boil
  5. Simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes
  6. Add the ground greens and let cook a further 10 minutes or so. Taste and adjust the seasoning (I added a splash of champagne vinegar at this point)
  7. Turn off the heat and let sit while you make the walnut sauce
WALNUT SAUCE DIRECTIONS
I used the food processor for the sauce because I'm lazy, but I think a mortar and pestle might have worked better, so I'll give directions for that. It's what Madison suggests, anyway.
  1. Place the garlic clove and a pinch of salt in the mortar, mix together with the pestle
  2. Add the walnuts and parsley and begin to work them into a paste
  3. Add the cream, crème fraîche, or strained yogurt a tablespoon at a time to help break down the walnuts. If you have any extra dairy, just add it to the soup
SERVE THE SOUP
When you serve the soup, add a generous dollop of the walnut sauce to each bowl and swirl to blend

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