For the past two weeks, my CSA bag has been overflowing with the fluffy green fronds atop some very adorable carrots from Five Points Farm Market. The carrots have come in bunches of five or six, and with the green stems still attached, I felt a little like Bugs Bunny when I finally got down to using them this week.
On Monday, I celebrated the fact that I didn’t have to go to work by cooking up a storm in my apartment, preparing food for the week’s lunches. I needed to use some of my CSA veggies, so that was priority one. The best way to do so? Lentil soup.
I always forget that I like lentils. I’ve lumped them in with beans – big, dry beans that pop in your mouth when you chew them… like kidney beans (perhaps my least favorite of all beans) – and therefore, I have dismissed them as undesirable. But my friend Mary cooked dinner for me and my roommates a few weeks ago, and she served us lentils with carrots and celery, and I remembered, oh, yes, I actually do like lentils. A lot.
Lentils are homey, warm, and hearty, but they also have a pleasing texture, which is one of my biggest complaints about beans: texture issues. I had been craving lentils ever since Mary served them to us, so I asked for her recipe, did a little Internet research, and cobbled together a recipe to use. Mary let me in on what I think is one of the secret ingredients; she mentioned she had once had lentil soup with sweet potatoes in it and liked that a lot. I love sweet potatoes, so I added them to my list of ingredients.
The base of my recipe came from Allrecipes.com, but it has been tweaked and modified to incorporate things that I like (and are in season) and to leave out a few things I didn’t want (like spinach).
During my cooking escapade on Monday, I boiled some chicken breasts for making chicken salad, and I used the water leftover from that as my chicken broth, about 4 cups. If you don’t have broth, you can always use water.
Lentil Soup with Corn and Sweet Potatoes
1/2 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
Approx. 1 cup carrots, sliced (the carrots I was using were very tiny, so I am guessing they equaled about a cup – if you’re using full-sized carrots, I’d say go with two of them, slicing into circles)
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled, sliced, then cubed
Kernels from 1 ear of sweet corn (Make sure you run the back of your knife along the ear of corn after you cut off the kernels so you get all that good juice in the bowl as well)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp oregano (dried)
1 tsp parsley (fresh if you have it, but dried is fine)
Sea salt and pepper
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
2 cups dry lentils (I used the green ones, but red is okay too)
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
Splash of white wine (I used a reisling I had open in the fridge)
1. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, and saute for about 2 minutes. Add celery and carrots, and saute for about 2-3 minutes, until onions have softened. Add garlic, and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Then mix in sweet potatoes and corn.
2. Stir in bay leaf, parsley, oregano, a big pinch of sea salt, and a little pepper to taste. Cook about two more minutes.
3. Stir in the lentils, crushed tomatoes, stock, and water. Bring mixture to a boil, and once it boils, reduce heat to medium (or medium-low, if your stove is like mine and runs a little hot) and simmer for at least one hour, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened and liquid has reduced. Just before serving, pour in dash of white wine and stir to combine. Season with a bit more salt and pepper, and serve warm.
A word about lentils: this was my first time cooking with them, so I had no idea I needed to pick through the lentils to look for rocks or anything. There were none, thank goodness, but it’s never fun telling your dinner companions to chew carefully in case there are rocks. Pick through your lentils while they’re dry and take a look for anything funky.
This dish has a warm, almost Moroccan flavor, so I’m tempted to use some golden raisins in the soup next time. Raisins soak up the juices, becoming hydrated into sweet, lightly tart little jewels of flavor in an otherwise warmly flavored soup. I’m also thinking cumin might be a good addition. The great thing about this recipe, and seemingly all lentil soup recipes, is that it has lots of room for creativity and experimentation. So get yourself some lentils, some fresh veggies (possibly from your CSA), and start playing around with the soup!