by Amanda Mattos
It turns out that Kate and I were longing for lentils around the same time. Synchronized lentil soup making is just one of the many tricks up our sleeves at the IFA. The great thing about lentils is that, unlike most other legumes, you don’t have to worry about pre-soaking them. The time they spend in the water while you’re cooking is plenty to plump and soften them.
Inspired by this Bacon & Lentil soup recipe over on Serious Eats, I took to my stock pot with a few variations in mind. I knew I wanted to add some kind of grain, and that I wanted it to be more of a stew than a soup in texture. It’s been cold in D.C., and I wanted this to warm me through and through. I also knew I wanted to get some other flavors in there beyond the basic celery-carrot-onion set up for most soups (dependable, but not always the most exciting). And, I wanted to get a really good deep green veggie in there to make this a full meal on the nutritional scale.
Also, this recipe cost about $20 to make — I started lovingly referring to it as the Coming Depression Soup. Lentils, you see, are quite cheap. My recipe after the jump.
- About 2 cups lentils (all the store had were standard issue brown ones; you could use different colors for different flavors)
- About 2 cups barley (I used half of a bag of each of these; I’m guessing it was around 2 cups. They were the basic sized bags of dried goods, grocery store brand, less than a dollar each.)
- Water or stock. In the school of Bittman, I used water.
- Half a package of bacon, cut up into bite-sized chunks (I’d say maybe 10 slices of bacon makes up half a package?)
- 2-3 big handfulls of kale, cut or ripped into bite sized pieces or ribbons
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4-6 cloves garlic, chopped (I love both garlic and onion; feel free to cut these amounts if you’re not as enamored as I am)
- 3-5 celery sticks, cut into rounds
- 1-2 parsnips, chopped
- 1 leek, cut into crescent-moon little pieces (cut lengthwise, then chop down the stalk)
- A chili pepper, chopped. I used 2 dried rancho gordo chillies (I think they’re cayennes). You can use a fresh cayenne or poblano or jalapeno, or just shake the red pepper chili flake bottle till it’s hot enough for ya. The spice in this really brought the other flavors up a level.
- Spices to taste
For Garnish: a couple spring/green onions chopped or shredded, and goat chevre.
First things first, break up the bacon and cook it in the bottom of your soup pot. Once it was starting to brown and giving off plenty of grease, add the onion and garlic. As those got nice and aeromatic, throw in the celery and turnips and leeks and chilies. You might need to put a turn or two of olive oil in at this point if the bacon grease isn’t cutting it. Let the veggies soften (about 3-5 minutes from this point), and then add your water or stock. I just pulled the pot over to the sink and filled it about halfway. I let it bubble up a bit then added my lentils and barley. If the water doesn’t cover your ingredients by an inch or so, add more.
Let the beans and grains soak up the liquid, boiling for about 30 minutes or so. When they’re getting soft, add your kale and taste what you’ve got so far. This is when I added my sea salt, fresh ground pepper, a little thyme, a little tarragon, and oregano. Use your nose and taste as you go to see what your soup needs to make it have some more depth.
Let the soup keep boiling until the lentils and barley are soft and right. I wanted a thicker, less watery soup, but if you want some liquid, add more water as the grains soak it up.
Once you’ve tasted it to make sure your flavors are right and everything’s done cooking, serve it up! I topped with some chopped spring onions and a dollop of goat chevre. The goat cheese really made this soup something special. And the next night, when a troupe of drunken revelers came by our house after celebrating a friend’s birthday, the lentil soup turned out to be the greatest drunk food of all time. We sat on my kitchen floor and passed around a reheated bowl, and pretty much made yummy noises for half an hour solid. This soup also freezes well, so you can have lentils for days and barley for weeks.