Trekking home under the gray sky, scarf yanked up to my mouth as a brace against the brisk autumn wind, I determinedly speedwalk, just under the point of breaking into a run, across the December tundra otherwise known as the three blocks between school and my house. During my hurried journey, I often promise to simmer up a comforting pot of soup for dinner to warm my chilled appendages, but upon arrival home, my homework entrenches me until the clock strikes 45 minutes before I must depart for my nightly gymnastics practice and I must forgo the luxury of perfectly melding flavors into a warming broth filled with farmers market vegetables, instead usually opting for a rather thrown-together salad or (if luck favors me that day) leftovers.
This Friday, I finally followed through on my personal oath. Free from any homework due the next day, I gladly succumbed to my intense lentil soup craving, inspired by the recipe for Egyptian-Style Lentil Soup from The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen (a wonderful panopaly of fresh, classic recipes from Italy, Spain, Provence, and the Middle East that showcase the region’s deep appreciation for vegetables, grains, and legumes).
Not exactly certain about this recipe’s decidedly Egyptian-ness (it seemed to me like I could find the same blend of ingredients in any area of the Mediterranean), I shrugged off the soup’s wavering authenticity to supremely enjoy the complex flavor profile produced from such common ingredients. The broth, astoundingly seasoned with rich lentil juices and sauteed veggies, could have stood as a thin soup all on its own. Cumin and fennel seeds, my two favorite spices to implement in lentil soup, did not fail to impart adequate smokiness and unctuousness.
As the title of this post suggests, the recipe certainly did not break through the barriers of everyday lentil soups, nor did it launch any sort of soup revolution. This soup did, however, warm my very soul on a blustery December evening. What more can you ask for in a soup? I also served it over a bed of shredded kale, which slightly wilted but still held a pleasing crunchy texture—a lovely contrast to the creamy lentils.
No-Frills Lentil Soup (Gluten Free, Soy Free, Nut Free)—Adapted from The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 5 oz carrots, diced
- 2 small stalks celery, leaves included, diced
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups vegetable broth (homemade or boxed—the low-sodium version from Pacific Natural Foods is my favorite.)
- 4 cups water
- 1 1/2 cups lentils (I used black beluga, but you could certainly use the green French Le Puy or the standard brown.)
- Generous sprinkle of cayenne (err more on the stingy side if you like less heat.)
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, cumin, fennel seeds, and bay leaf. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the broth, water, lentils, cayenne, and black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Uncover and simmer for 10-15 more minutes, until the lentils are very tender and broth has slightly thickened.
Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaf, and stir in the lemon juice. Serve immediately. This soup also keeps well in a Tupperware container and tastes even better the next day.
Meal Checklist: Protein—lentils. Whole Grain—none. Vegetables—onion, carrots, celery, garlic. Leafy Green—kale.
Comment Provoking Questions: What is your go-to warming winter meal? What is your favorite variety of lentil? What are your favorite spices to use in lentil soup?
Until next time, Ali.