“Can you stay for dinner?” an elementary schoolmate asked me decades ago. “We’re having lentil soup, she said. “What are lentils?” I asked. Being of Asian descent, lentils had never passed through my lips before. To my delight, I found her family’s lentil soup to be rich in flavor and texture and I will forever associate lentils with her.
Lentils, like other legumes, are high in fiber and protein and low in fat. But unlike other legumes, there’s no need to presoak lentils and they take less time to cook. The dominant flavors in this robust soup come from the earthiness of the lentils and the fresh vegetables, but the subtle undertones come from two surprising ingredients: Dijon mustard and vinegar. This soup is hostess-friendly, too, because it can be made a day in advance and it tastes even better when served the second day!
Hearty Lentil Soup
Recipe from the Sacramento Bee
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups finely diced onion
3 large garlic cloves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/3 cup finely diced celery
1/3 cup finely diced carrot
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1½ cups French green or brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
Chopped celery leaves and parsley, for garnish
1. Heat the oil in a soup pot over high heat. Add the onion and sauté until it begins to color around the edges, 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, mince or pound the garlic in a mortar with 1 teaspoon salt.
3. Work the tomato paste into the onion, then add the garlic, celery, carrot, bay leaves and parsley and cook for 3 minutes.
4. Add the lentils, 2 quarts of water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are tender, 24 to 35 minutes.
5. Stir in the mustard and vinegar. Taste and add more of either as needed.
6. Check the salt, season with plenty of pepper, remove the bay leaves and serve, garnished with the celery leaves and parsley.
7. The longer the soup sits before serving, the better it will taste.
Serves 4 to 6
1. I use Italian parsley when I make this soup.
2. Because I like the way French green lentils hold their shape, I prefer using them in this soup over brown lentils.
3. The second time I made this soup, I used vegetable broth in place of the water. I can honestly say that there was no noticeable improvement in flavor using the broth, so I don’t recommend spending extra money on vegetable broth. This is not to say, though, that homemade vegetable stock wouldn’t have added a richness to the soup.