Friday, December 30, 2016

Mom’s Basic Bootcamp: Lentil Soup


This is the second in a series of basic recipes anyone can easily make.  They have existed for centuries because 1) they are simple, and 2) they taste good.  Once you master their preparation, you’re free to improvise…or not. 

I often experiment with Lentil Soup because this basic recipe is very forgiving. 
You can make a vegetarian version or a meat-eater’s version. You can add leftovers or more ingredients (see below).  Best of all, Lentil Soup is cheap to make.
Dried Brown Lentils
Basic Lentil Soup – serves 4 as a soup, 2-3 as a main dish (adapted from "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!")    
1 tablespoon olive oil 
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch slices 
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
1 15-ounce can ready-cut tomatoes 
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
1 cup uncooked brown lentils 
4 cups water (or chicken or vegetable broth) + more if needed 
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional) 
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the celery, onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften.  Add the tomatoes and their liquid, oregano, salt, black pepper, lentils and water or broth. 
Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.  Then turn down the heat to low and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes.  Test lentils to see if they are soft by tasting one.  Undercooked lentils are like pebbles.  If the lentils are too hard, cook for another 5-10 minutes.  
When the soup is ready, it will be very thick.  You can add 1/2 cup or more water to thin it slightly.  Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if using, and serve.
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Possible Lentil Soup Add-Ins:

I potato, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (added with onion)
or
Cooked baked potato, skin removed and remaining potato cut into 1/2-inch pieces (added 10 minutes before finished cooking)
or
Handful dried pasta or 1 cup leftover pasta (dried added with lentils; leftovers added 10 minutes before finished cooking)
or
1/2 cup uncooked rice or 1 cup cooked rice (uncooked added with lentils; cooked added 10 minutes before finished cooking)

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices (added with onion)
or
Handful spinach, chopped kale or chopped bok choy (added 10 minutes before finished cooking)

1 or 2 fully cooked sausages, sliced thinly (added 10 minutes before finished cooking)
or
Leftover small pieces of cooked chicken, turkey, lamb or beef (added 10 minutes before finished cooking)

For an Indian flavor, use 1 teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon ground coriander instead of oregano.