Long ago when I began to get “serious” about cooking, one of my main sources of inspiration was Mollie Katzen, famous chef and author of the original Moosewood cookbooks, filled with recipes developed at the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York. Now in its 40th anniversary printing, The Moosewood Cookbook remains a treasured classic by vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.
Really, it is Katzen’s cookbook (among a few others) that gave me “permission” to be brave in the kitchen. She is so brilliantly unintimidating, sort of standing behind you at the stove whispering “Go ahead, add that in and see if it works.” Maybe it’s the quirky lettering, delightful original artwork on every page, or the fact that one of my best friends, Pam Russell, gave it to me. Whatever, it’s a treasured resource and represents one of my beginning steps to perfecting Country French Lentil Soup.
I mentioned lentils in the last post, labeling them nutrition powerhouses. In Winter Wheat Berry Bake, they are just a stand-in, but here they have the starring role in one of the richest, most comforting soups I’ve ever made. Of all the soups in my repertoire (and there are many), this is the one that receives the most compliments.
- Three cups raw brown lentils, soaked for four to six hours (Lentils can be soaked overnight, but don’t need to be. They can become too mushy, I think.)
- Six to seven cups vegetable stock (Your own is wonderful but commercial will do in a pinch, like Imagine “No-Chicken” Broth.)
- Two teaspoons sea salt
- One fresh or dry bay leaf
- A quarter cup extra virgin olive oil
- Four large cloves of garlic, chopped—not minced.
- One large yellow onion, chopped
- One cup celery, chopped (I use the tender heart with as many nice leaves as the entire stalk will yield, and it’s always organic because conventional celery is very high in pesticide content.)
- One cup carrots, chopped (Organic carrots should be scrubbed but do not need to be peeled—the most nutrition is near the surface.)
- Sea salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Two cups whole tomatoes, chopped (You can use fresh—if it’s early fall and they are still nice—frozen or canned high-quality whole tomatoes, making sure the can is BPA-Free.)
- Two tablespoons dry red or white wine or dry white sherry (Never use cooking sherry.)
- The juice of half a large lemon or a whole small lemon
- One to two tablespoons unsulfured blackstrap molasses
- One tablespoon red wine vinegar
- Two to three tablespoons fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
- About one cup chopped fresh spinach
- Simmer the lentils in the stock with the two teaspoons of salt and the bay leaf for about one hour to one hour and a half. Keep the heat low, barely simmering. The trick to this whole recipe is low heat and patient, long cooking time.
- Meanwhile, sauté the garlic, onion, celery and carrots in the olive oil until slightly tender and shiny, maybe 15 minutes or so. Salt these vegetables at the beginning of the sauté to bring out their flavors and create a sweat.
- Add the vegetables to the lentils and stir well. Cook very low for about another hour and a half.
- About one hour before serving, add the black pepper, tomatoes with juice, wine or sherry, lemon juice, molasses and vinegar. Stir well and continue to cook on very low heat.
- About a half-hour before serving, add the thyme and spinach. Stir and continue to cook on very low heat. Remove the bay leaf before serving.
You can serve the soup immediately or store it in the refrigerator. Keeps well for about four or five days, and it's flavors develop nicely over time. Do not freeze.
On a recent Saturday night, I paired this rich soup with a chopped salad of kale and spinach, that I topped with cooked red quinoa and raw red onion that had been tossed with my favorite lemon vinaigrette dressing. I sprinkled some dried sour cherries and toasted walnuts across the top for crunch and sweetness. I believe there was a last-minute addition of chopped avocado, too.
We also enjoyed toasted pumpkin seeds on the soup and some slices of aged gouda cheese from Marcoot Jersey Creamery, a dairy farm over in Greenville, IL. I was thrilled to see these local artisan selections showing up in the grocery store in Edwardsville. BTW, Marcoot Jersey Creamery was featured in the December 2015 issue of FEAST Magazine; it’s nice to know that FEAST looks on both sides of the river for great culinary treasures.
Well we are just about through January. How are you doing with a cleaner diet? You should get the idea by now that a clean diet can also be a delicious one. Let us know how it’s working.