Saturday, August 15, 2009
Day 7: Spiced Lentil Soup with Lemon-Herb Yogurt and Bacon
Aaaaaah...the lentil. The humble, earthy, slightly frumpy, a bit dowdy, no-I'm-not-looking-for-a-date-I'm-staying-home-and-washing-my-Birkenstocks lentil. And brown, so very broooooowwwwwwn is the lentil. But! With a little love, a few spices, and a bit of simmering the humble lentil becomes something entirely different.
The lentil becomes rich and thick, falling-apart tender in aromatic broth. And, once topped with a tangy, citrusy, herb-studded yogurt sauce that gently melts at the edges, streaking the grassy-yellow soup with....oh, my.
And the bacon doesn't hurt, either.
This easy, nutritious lentil soup is criminally inexpensive, made with just dry lentils, pantry veggies, and water. (You know that when a recipe involves FIVE CUPS OF FREE WATER you're barking up an appropriately cheap tree.)
So, first, rinse a cup and half of plain brown lentils or green French lentils (if you're fahncy) and set aside. Tell those lentils to look smart: it's almost time to de-frump.
Finely dice one large sweet onion, two carrots, and one rib of celery. In the interest of speed, I ran mine through the food processor, which explains their mulchy appearance. This is also an solid strategy for feeding the picky or veggie-adverse. ("What onions? You're crazy.")
Warm three tablespoons of olive oil in a big, heavy stockpot or Dutch oven.
Saute the veggies (or Secret Agent Veg E. Mulch) over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and beginning to brown, about seven to ten minutes.
While the veggies sizzle, measure out the seasonings: salt, pepper, cumin, and ground coriander. If you don't use coriander, do give it a try. It has big flavor (nutty, lemony, lightly spicy) for just a couple bucks, and one jar has lots of applications in Latin, Indian, Moroccan, and Asian recipes. Coming attractions!
Add the spices to the pot and, stirring constantly, cook until everything is warm, fragrant, and pasty, about forty-five seconds.
Stir in the lentils and five big cups of (FREE) water. You are, of course, welcome to use chicken or veggie broth, but I think you can get away water and save a few bucks in the process. With the heady spices and caramelized vegetable base, the soup will have plenty of flavor as-is.
Bring the whole thing to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover. That's it! You can now walk away for about forty minutes, tend to your business, watch exactly one episode of LOST online, build a fort with your children, spay your cat, etc. But save five minutes for...
...making a delicious yogurt sauce, OK? Into one cup of plain (not vanilla) yogurt, mix six tablespoons of fresh chopped herbs, namely cilantro and mint. If you don't like cilantro, go with parsley instead. Or try experimenting with dill. ("Experimenting With Dill!" A Time Life Series...)
Now, add the juice of one lemon to the yogurt/herb mixture. The earthy flavor of cooked lentils really begs for the brightness of some acid--vinegar, wine, citrus--at the end of cooking, and most lentil soup recipes call for a splash of vinegar. The lemon and yogurt will do the trick here and wake things right up. (Perhaps this the culinary equivalent of that part in certain movies where the Frumpy Girl takes off her glasses and lets down her hair and magically becomes the Hot Chick? It's like that, but more tasty, less trite.)
Spoon the lentil soup in bowls and top with a generous dollop of yogurt.
And, if you're dining in the company of meat-eaters and feeling particularly sassy, top that yogurt with a bit of salty, crispy bacon.
Serve with toasty warm pieces of pita or flatbread. No frump in sight, baby.
Spiced Lentil Soup with Lemon-Heb Yogurt and Bacon from Beanplate
(serves four to six)
1 1/2 cups dried brown lentils (or French green lentils)
3 T. olive oil
1 large sweet onion, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
5 cups water
1 cup plain yogurt
4 T. chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
juice of one lemon
six strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)
Sort and rinse lentils; set aside. Heat olive oil in large, heavy stockpot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Cook onion, carrots, and celery until tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper, cumin, and coriander and cook, stirring constantly, for about 45 seconds. Add lentils and water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cover pot. Let cook for about 45 minutes, until lentils are tender.
Meanwhile, combine yogurt, herbs, and lemon juice to make yogurt sauce. Top each bowl of soup with large dollop of lemon-herb yogurt and a strip of crumbled bacon. Serve with warm pita or flatbread.