lentil + tomato soup


Though my snazzy camera battery decided to finally peter out (after days! and days! of low battery warning) before this soup photo-shoot was through, I can still attest that despite the perfectly photogenic proof of all completed steps, this soup was A-MAZ-ING.

This savory-sweet (AND hearty) soup hails classical ingredients from the Mediterranean. That's right: I'm playing the Greek card. But, what can I SAY. This ancient culture is at the top of things when it comes to playing flavorful, bright, and healthful combinations in their [vegetarian] dishes. 

The recipe originates from Martha Rose Shulman, and her collection called Mediterranean Harvest: Vegetarian Recipes from the World's Healthiest Cuisine, which can be found (and purchased!) here. Shulman, who has been awarded the Julia Child award (heavens), is known for her dedication to healthful living through international cuisine. Though she's had several collaborations, started instructing cooking classes, and just recently put out a newest book of recipes (found here), her simple concoctions resonate and satisfy time and time again. 

And so, here we go: Provençal Tomato + Lentil Soup. Shulman, who insists that if you have lentils on hand, you have the means to make one badass dinner (okay, I'm paraphrasing, or adding color, but you understand), and proves so with several lentil-based soups from which to choose. The ingredients for this particular one are as follows:

1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bay leaf
5 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped (we used 1 white, 1 yellow)
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or 1 can (14 ounces) chopped, with juice (we went the can route, viva la winter)
1 sprig fresh thyme
A handful fresh basil leaves, slivered or chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup elbow macaroni or other soup pasta
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyére

To start, you toss the lentils, 1 of the garlic cloves, 4 cups of the water, and the bay leaf into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for about 20 minutes. About halfway through, the garlicky aroma will pretty much start to kill you, but trust me, the wait is worth it. 

Next, you want to strain the lentils over a bowl, thus saving the garlic/bay leaf water to later on go back into the soup. Rinse the lentils and set aside. Pick out the garlic clove, now soft, and also set aside for later use. And get rid of that bay leaf. Nobody wants to find that in their bowl, least of all childhood me who used to ask, why is there grass on my plate? Sheesh.

Take the remaining three garlic cloves, as well as the previously simmered one, and put them into a mortar and pestle to prepare for smashing. Trust me: it makes the soup. If you don't have a mortar (or a pestle for that matter), smashing the garlic with a fork will do, though it won't be nearly as fun to complete. Tip: first chopping the raw garlic into smaller pieces will make the smashing process go much smoother. If you are one for a challenge, however, have at it.  BUT, if you can hack whole garlic cloves, the result will be a much sweeter taste result.

action shot.

Next, or simultaneously, should you have a cute cooking partner, in a biggg soup pot you will now want to add the olive oil along with the chopped onions and celery. Let them cook down for a moment until they start to soften.

When the onions have started to go translucent, it is ... time to add everything else. Simple, right? Starting with the lentils, then the canned tomatoes (which you have by now chopped into smaller pieces, haven't you?), the water you strained previously (remember?), the basil + thyme (which, I must honestly report, were dried), and the salt and pepper (though, some of which was added during the garlic step). Whew.

Bring all of these ingredients to a rapid boil, stirring occasionally. Then reduce to a simmer for about forty minutes. (Sometime within the last few minutes of simmering, add your desired pasta shape for the suggested cooking time, as well as the remaining cup of water.)

And so: dinner is served. We added a little extra pasta to our particular rendition (seeing as half a cup seemed rather skimpy) only to find that it cooked up to more of a thick stew-like texture, which I can't say anyone found displeasing. And OH, the surprising sweetness this soup brings to the table. Who knew the powers of garlic before now? (Well. I did. But seriously. The FLAVOR.)

Though we decided to go cheese-less on this endeavor (I know, I know, call us crazy), you may or may not now sprinkle a little Parmesan on your completed dish, grab a spoon, and enjoy. 

soup + homemade honey wheat bread (turned toast).