I’ll always think of my grandmother when I make lentil soup. She always seemed to have some ready when I stopped by for lunch. Sometimes it was homemade. Other times it was from a can with some of her own vegetables and spices. Either way, it was good with me.
Even if your grandmother isn’t making it for you, lentil soup is pure comfort food. It’s made with simple ingredients and takes less than an hour before you have yourself a big pot’s worth. Like many soups, lentil soup reheats well, freezes well, and is easy to double if you want to stretch it out to feed more people or have yourself meals to enjoy throughout the week.
I think lentils get overlooked in today’s cooking. I get it; they’ve been around since biblical times and aren’t trendy. In fact, they’re the oldest pulse (legume grown for its dried seed) known to man. They’re tiny and brown, so they’re not screaming for attention, either.
And yet, lentils remain an affordable source of protein. Though tiny, they’re filling and cook quickly, too. Unlike many other beans, there’s no need to soak beforehand. There are also dozens of varieties that range in colors from black to yellow. Though if you ask me, you can’t go wrong with the standard brown. I’ve overcooked red lentils more often than not.
There are even more straightforward recipes for lentil soup than this one. You can leave out the ham to keep the soup vegetarian. You could also cut out the rice, though I don’t see why, as it cooks along with the lentils and makes the soup a bit more of a substantial meal. As for the spices, you could simplify those too. Soups must be one of the easiest foods to customize as long as you taste it and make adjustments before serving.
When making this recipe, I thought back to my grandmother’s lentil soup. I don’t have the recipe for her homemade version, though I wonder if she even had a recipe, anyway. It could very likely have been from the bag of dried lentils. Instead, I thought about how she might include what she already had in the kitchen, and I grabbed tomatoes and greens from my garden, along with ham from the freezer.
I also thought about the spices she would use. She didn’t cook with many fresh herbs, and my grandfather wasn’t an adventurous eater. Yet I remember a bottle of Mrs. Dash seasoning often being on the table. I looked up what’s in that blend, as I can’t say I’ve ever bought it. It’s a combination of a long list of herbs and spices, and I think the variety I chose does a decent job of replicating the flavor of the all-purpose seasoning. At least, as I remember it. You should have most of these already in your spice collection, I hope. Otherwise, feel free to use your favorite all-purpose spice blend.
Classic Lentil Soupmakes about 4 servings
1 stalk celery
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 /2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried sage
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
8 cups vegetable broth
1 cup lentils
1/2 cup short-grain white rice, such as Arborio
1 medium tomato
1 8-ounce ham steak
2 cups chopped greens, such as spinach or chard
zest and juice of 1 lemon
Chop the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables and salt and saute in the olive oil for about 12-15 minutes, stirring often. Now mix in the cumin, oregano, thyme, sage, cayenne, nutmeg, paprika, and black pepper.
Deglaze the pot by pouring in the white wine and scraping the bottom with your spoon. If you don’t want to use wine or don’t have any handy, use water. Cook until the liquid is almost all absorbed, about 2-3 minutes.
Pour the broth into the pot, along with the lentils. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. While the soup simmers, chop the tomato, ham steak and greens. After 15 minutes, stir in the rice, tomato, ham and greens and continue to cook for 15 minutes more or until the lentils and rice are both tender.
When done, stir in the lemon zest and juice. Taste the soup and add more salt, if needed, and serve. The soup will thicken as it cools, but you can add a little water to it when reheating.