In Praise of Lentils and a recipe for Soup

Lentil Soups tastefood

Why do I overlook lentils? These humble legumes resembling tiny pancaked pebbles are often bypassed in my pantry, as I reach for rice, farro, couscous. When I finally do cook with lentils, I remember how good they taste, how satisfying they are to eat, and how easy they are to prepare. Imminently flexible, they can stand in for a grain, starch, even a protein. They are healthy too – rich in nutrients, high in protein, iron, and fiber, arguably placing them neck and neck with other lauded superstar foods in the nutrition department. They cook quickly and without any fuss, gamely absorbing the flavors and seasoning from their fellow ingredients and braising liquids, adding a hearty, earthy, and rich base to soups, stews, side dishes, even salads. Really, I must eat more lentils – and you should too.

Lentil Soup

This soup is simple, to the point, and deservedly all about the lentil.

Serves 4.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 1/2 cups brown lentils, rinsed and sorted through
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Madeira or Port wine
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots and garlic and sauté until the carrots begin to soften and brighten in color, about 2 minutes. Add the stock, lentils, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until the lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. (The soup should be somewhat thick. If desired, thin the soup to your preferred consistency by adding additional chicken stock 1/4 cup at a time.) Stir in the sugar, wine, vinegar, salt, and pepper and taste for seasoning. Simmer the soup, partially covered, over low heat to thoroughly heat through and meld the flavors, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with the parsley.  Serve hot.

Chicken Vegetable Soup with Green Garlic

green garlic veg soup

In this in-between time of winter and spring, a chicken vegetable soup is appropriately light and soothing. In this recipe, the comfort of chicken stock is enriched with carrots, fennel, and green garlic.  Green garlic is unique to spring. Resembling a thick scallion, the green stalk and bulb of young garlic is harvested before the plant matures and the bulb divides into cloves. In its raw state green garlic has a pungent aroma, yet when cooked it grows tame, providing a mild, sweet and herbaceous backdrop to the chicken stock.

Chicken Vegetable Soup with Green Garlic

Serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped green garlic, white and pale green parts
Salt
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
1 medium fennel bulb, fronds trimmed, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 cup orzo
2 heaping teaspoons fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken meat
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the green garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sauté until the garlic softens and its aroma loses its pungency, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and fennel and continue to sauté until the carrots brighten in color and the vegetables begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock, orzo, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, partially covered, until the orzo is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if desired. Stir in the chicken and parsley and continue to cook until the chicken is warmed through.

Chilled Pea Soup with Crème Fraîche and Tarragon

This chilled soup is light and luscious. Each billowy spoonful is a harbinger of spring in both its simplicity and presentation. A sweet blend of English peas is balanced by the brightness of lemon and the tang of crème fraîche. The licorice notes of tarragon and slivers of peppery radish finish the soup, adding freshness and texture, not to mention a beautiful swath of pink to the emerald purée.

Chilled Pea Soup with Crème Fraîche, Lemon and Tarragon

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped, about 1/4 cup
1 cup chicken stock
3 cups shelled English peas
1 cup chicken stock (or water)
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup crème fraîche (or plain Greek yogurt)
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Fresh tarragon
Sliced radishes

1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent without coloring, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the peas and sauté until bright and crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock, salt, and pepper and simmer until the peas are very tender, about 4 minutes.
2. Carefully transfer to a food processor and process until smooth. Add the 1 cup water, ¼ cup at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. The soup should be a little thick and not too runny. Transfer to a bowl to cool and taste for seasoning.
3. Whisk the crème fraîche and lemon zest in a small bowl.
4. Divide the soup between serving bowls or small cups. Add a spoonful of the cream to the soup and gently swirl, leaving light traces of the cream visible. Garnish with snipped tarragon leaves and sliced radishes.

 

Winter Root Soup with Celeriac and Parsnip

winter root soup

This rich and velvety soup will have you guessing it’s laden with cream. Well, guess again. A thick puree of celeriac (celery root) and parsnip is evened out with milk and chicken stock, providing a light and smooth yet surprisingly rich soup.  If you haven’t tried celeriac, it’s time you did. Don’t let its gnarly exterior dissuade you – the inner meat is nutty with mild celery notes. When cooked, its flavor is mellow and sublime, which provides a nice balance to the sweet and earthy parsnip. Thyme and garlic round out the flavors of this slurp-worthy bowl of soup which promises to keep you warm and sated in the cold weather.

Parsnip and Celery Root Soup
Serves 4 to 6.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped, about 1 cup
1 pound parnsips, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 pound celery root, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
2 sprigs thyme
1/2 cup whole milk plus more to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the parsnips, celery root, and garlic. Sauté until the vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the pot and simmer until the vegetables are very soft, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs. Carefully transfer the soup to a food processor (or use an immersion blender) and purée until smooth. Return the soup to the pot. Add the milk, salt, and pepper. If the soup is too thick, add more milk to your desired consistency. Gently heat over medium-low heat until hot and taste for seasoning. Serve hot.

Winter Vegetable Soup with Greens and Grains

winter vegetable soup tf

I make a version of this soup throughout the fall and winter. The recipe is easy and delicious, following a simple template which I switch up with different seasonal vegetables, often a grain, and sometimes beans. The basic stock is chicken, to which I add a can of Italian plum tomatoes for fruity acidity, plus a hunk of Parmesan rind which breaks down while cooking, adding a little oomph (aka umami) to the broth. From there I embellish, adding a grain, such as farro or barley, and chunks of sturdy vegetables, such as fennel, butternut squash, and carrot. If I crave more substance (think one-pot dinner), I’ll dump a can of cannellini beans or chickpeas into the mix. Finally, I stir in chopped hearty greens, such as kale, mustard, or spinach, and simmer until they just wilt but remain bright and fresh. You can do this too – use the following recipe as your template, and mix and match the veggies and grains to your taste.

Winter Vegetable Soup with Greens and Grains
Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, thinly sliced (or 1 1/2 cups cubed butternut squash)
1 small fennel bulb, fonds and end trimmed, halved and thinly sliced
1 cup uncooked barley or farro
1 (15-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
6 cups chicken stock, or more as needed
1 (2 to 3 inch) Parmesan rind
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained (optional)
2 cups coarsely chopped kale (or spinach)
Grated Parmesan for garnish

Heat the oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Add the onion and sauté until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the carrot or squash and the fennel. Saute until brightened in color, about 2 minutes. Add the barley and stir to coat, then add the tomatoes, chicken stock, cheese rind, bay leaf, thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender and the barley is tender, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon. If the soup becomes too thick, add more stock as necessary. Add the beans, if using, and bring to a boil, then add the greens and simmer until bright green in color and just wilted. Taste for seasoning. Serve hot with grated cheese.

 

Chicken and Farro Soup with Carrots and Shiitakes

Posted by Lynda Balslev

This is a Sunday soup, a perfect antidote to a social weekend with big meals and late evenings. Restorative, healthy, and nourishing, it’s a perfect time-out meal to enjoy on a relaxed and peaceful day, with no reservations and no make-up on the agenda. I used leftover chicken from a roast, but you can easily use a rotisserie chicken from your local store or farmer’s market.

Chicken and Farro Soup with Carrots and Shiitakes

Don’t leave out the shiitakes – they impart a luscious umami flavor to the stock. Barley may be substituted for the farro. Serves 4.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, trimmed, halved if large
5 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup farro or pearl barley
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
1/4 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until it softens without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and mushrooms. Sauté until the carrots brighten in color and the mushrooms begin to release their juices, about 3  minutes. Add the stock, farro, bay leaf, thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the farro is tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in the chicken and top off with additional stock if needed. Simmer until the chicken is heated through. Ladle into bowls. Serve hot, garnished with parsley.

Hearty Chicken Tortilla Soup

tortilla soup tastefoodPosted by Lynda Balslev

My inspiration for making soup is often a convergence of too many vegetables in the refrigerator with homemade stock and leftovers from a roast chicken. This recipe is not an authentic tortilla soup, as I managed to empty most of the contents of my veggie drawer into it. It’s chock-a-block full of corn, zucchini and peppers, purchased at the farmers market, along with the requisite garlic and onion. Season and spice the soup to your taste. Ideally it should have a little heat, but since our family is divided on what constitutes “spicy”, I pass a bottle of hot sauce around the table so everyone can fire up the soup to their taste.

Harvest Chicken Tortilla Soup

This soup is meant to be thick. More chicken stock may be added for a soupier consistency. Serves 4 to 6.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 poblano pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 sweet red pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch dice
4 cups chicken stock
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cloves
3/4 pound shredded cooked chicken
1 cup fresh corn kernels
1 cup cooked black beans
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Tortilla chips, broken in pieces

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the peppers and sauté until crisp tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and zucchini and sauté briefly, 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, plum tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, cayenne, and cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, 20 minutes. Stir in the chicken, corn, and beans. Partially cover and simmer until thoroughly heated through. Taste for seasoning. Stir in the cilantro leaves and serve warm, garnished with the tortilla chips.