According to Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (Llewellyn Publications, 2003), lentils – a major staple in many diets around the world – possess the “energy” of Peace. Their element is water (and how would we eat them if we couldn’t cook them in liquid?), despite what I’d describe as an earthy taste, and their “planet” is the Moon (water… tides… get it?). Cunningham says to “eat it for peace.” I envision a whole day designated for making peace in the world, with everyone slurping lentil soup as part of the overall symbolism. On a full stomach, who can make war?
Peace wasn’t what I had in mind, however, when I made a large batch of it recently. It was about the next couple recipes to cover for From Scratch Club on GoodReads. Part of the assignment for FSC was to make another recipe from The Homemade Pantry, selecting from either Chapter 5 (or “Aisle” 5, as author Alana Chernila calls it), which covers Soups, or from Chapter/Aisle 6, entitled “Baking Needs & Mixes.” I made the soup from Aisle 5, then opted for Alana’s Yellow Cake in the following chapter (also made Corn Bread to go with Lentil Soup but not from this cookbook, although quite similar). Today’s post covers how I prepared the Lentil Soup, based on the book’s instructions but with my own revisions.
Bill loves lentil soup. I enjoy it and especially like that lentils don’t take a long time to cook! Growing up, however, I don’t remember these tiny “beans” ever being present in our household. It was the 50s and 60s, and convenience foods were big in this country, especially soup-wise (think: Campbell’s).
In our household if homemade soups were conjured up, Dad usually created them. And he had only two in his repertoire: Vegetable Beef and Manhattan Clam Chowder. In truth, they were the same concoction, except the first one got the beef and the flavor it created when the meat chunks were browned, and the chowder included clams (usually Little Necks). Otherwise, pretty much the same vegetables and spices. You’d think that our father’s taking over some cooking once in a while would be a gift to Mom, and she did appreciate it. Until it got to clean-up. It seems that Dad’s short stint as a cook in the army during the war made him prone to producing very large batches of soup, resulting in lots of clean-up detail (which he was perhaps used to leaving to other soldiers to handle). Mom always seemed to be the one handling clean-up in our flat’s tiny kitchen, a space not equipped with “instant” hot water. She had to be sure to light a flame under the gas water tank early on, so she’d have enough hot water to wash all the dishes!
If I need another reason to like lentils, it’s their awesome nutrition profile. 100 Best Health Foods (Love Food, an imprint of Paragon Books, 2009), a book that details health benefits of some foods determined to be best for our bodies and overall well-being, lists their major nutrient levels and further emphasizes that lentils are especially rich in fiber, have a high iron content, and contain plant chemicals to help alleviate PMS symptoms (wish I’d known that a couple decades ago) and aid in bone health. Their high zinc content also boosts the immune system. We’re talking a food that, from ancient times, has nourished the human race (almost 2,000 years before Christ was born, the Egyptians apparently traded lentils for the prized cedars of Lebanon!).
But few people want to be told how good something is for them (try it on a kid—see how far it’ll get you toward convincing them to eat broccoli or Brussels sprouts…). We want to know it tastes good. And this recipe is delicious – hot, earthy mouthfuls of flavor.
Note about this recipe: I adjusted things like:
- salt (ran out of unsalted butter; used low-sodium soy sauce instead of regular soy)
- didn’t have white onions on hand (used red)
- chopped celery instead of minced
- delayed when to add lentils (used dried red lentils instead of raw green or French lentils, which cook faster and would disintegrate if added early)
- added parsnip and extra potatoes
- added a mix of some herbs (some dried, some frozen from pots on my deck this summer).
EARTHY LENTIL SOUP
(with thanks to Alana Chernila for original recipe from which this is derived)
Yield: 8-10 servings
- 2 tablespoons butter (as noted above, I used salted butter; if using unsalted, adjust for difference)
- 1 cup chopped onion (white onion ok, but I had milder red ones!)
- ½ teaspoon fine-ground sea salt (table salt ok), plus more if desired
- 1 cup peeled, chopped celery (if celery has leaves, use them too!)
- 1 cup peeled, chopped carrots
- 1 medium-to-large parsnip, chopped
- 3 cups dried red lentils
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 2 cups peeled and chopped potatoes
- 7 to 10 cups chicken or vegetable stock (homemade preferred but not required) or water, or any combo of stock and water
- black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
- 1½ tablespoons light brown sugar (yup! who’da thought?!)
- 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce (according to Alana, tamari is ok too)
- up to 2 or 3 tablespoons of a combo of parsley, thyme, marjoram and/or oregano (Alana’s recipe calls for most of these [marjoram is my add-on] as garnish; I included them as actual last-minute additions to soup; some of these were frozen from my summer potted herbs, others were dried – all are optional but add nice flavor )
- Melt butter in large soup pot over medium heat.
- Add onion to butter; sauté for one minute or until shiny.
- Add salt, garlic, celery, parsnip and carrots to pan. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until aromatic and shiny.
- Add bay leaf, potatoes and about 7 cups of stock to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour.
- Stir lentils into pot. Bring to boil again, return to medium-low and cover. Check as it cooks, making sure it does not become too thick or dry; if it does, add more stock or water (I wound up using all 9 cups of stock plus a bit of filtered water). Cook for about another 45 minutes.
- Add pepper, brown sugar and soy sauce. Remove bay leaf. Cook for about another 10 to15 minutes.
- Add combo of herbs, if using. Simmer an additional 5 to 10 minutes if needed (check doneness of lentils and potatoes to gauge this).
- Adjust for salt and pepper, then serve!