It's Hard To Beat Homemade Soup & Handmade Bread
Another lentil soup recipe? Well, yes. But this one isn't an old favorite like my Hearty Lentil Soup with Smoked Sausage. It is in fact completely new, created last week out of desperation. Here is what I suddenly found myself face to face with:
1. Twelve pounds of organic onions.
2. Six pounds of organic carrots.
3. Several heads of organic garlic, all beginning to sprout.
4. A small but colorful mix of the very last garden tomatoes, rescued weeks ago and now looking rather pathetic and shrivelly (but in no way ready to be fed to the chickens).
5. Seven cups of luxuriously rich, homemade chicken stock taking up an entire (much needed) shelf in the refrigerator because I am out of little plastic freezer containers.
6. A couple dozen beautiful escarole plants still thriving in the garden but threatening to freeze to death at any moment.
7. A bag of tiny organic lentils staring up at me from the kitchen counter because they were too cute to stash away in the pantry.
So I ask you, what would you have done? That's what I thought. Soup.
I extolled the many virtues of lentil soup in the my recipe for Hearty Lentil Soup with Smoked Sausage post, and this recipe did not disappoint. It was cheap, easy, amenable to my choice of ingredients, ready in about an hour, and, most importantly, it tasted great. The first day it was very nice, the second day it was even better, and after 48 hours in the fridge I caught myself eating it straight from the pot and wondering if I really needed to bother heating it up. (I did, and it was sublime.)
This is a thick, quiet soup that is not full of herbs and spices and flavors that jump out at you. It is subtle. At first I wondered if it needed to be livened up a bit, but after about a dozen test spoonfuls (I'm serious), I realized that it was absolutely fine just as it was. You can, however, use it as a starting point to create all sorts of flavorful variations.
For instance, next time I will definitely be adding much more escarole. I put in two large handfuls (that weighed about 4 ounces total), and I think it could have used at least twice that much, if not more. You could also substitute other greens, such as one of those handy bags of organic baby spinach or some nice kale (though you may need to cook the kale a bit longer).
I like my soups blended so that they are thick, and while I was inhaling those twelve test tastes, I found myself staring into the pot, trying to find any sign at all of the tomatoes I knew were in there. That's when I had a Very Interesting Revelation: You could hide all kinds of stuff in this soup. Just blend it up, and your picky little (or big) eaters will have no idea that they are happily slurping up a dreaded carrot or tomato--or even spinach. I could barely even make out the escarole in this batch. Now don't feel guilty. This is not being sneaky; it is being smart. Plus sometimes there is just no way you can eat all that escarole yourself.
Here are some other things you could do with this recipe:
--Add a lot more carrots.
--Add a lot more garlic (and roast it first).
--Use fire-roasted and/or flavored canned tomatoes.
--Add extra tomatoes.
--Use water or vegetable stock for a vegetarian version.
--Stir in some cooked shredded chicken after you blend it up.
--Garnish it with a dollop of sour cream.
--Add your favorite herbs or spices, such as rosemary & thyme or even curry powder.
--Make it a Mexican meal by adding cumin, coriander, and a jar of green tomatillo salsa to the soup, then garnish it with shredded Jack cheese, diced avocado, chopped tomatoes, fresh cilantro, and sour cream (this would be good with the shredded chicken added, too). Serve with tortilla chips.
--Slip in any veggies you can't get people you are feeding to eat otherwise.
I think you get the idea. It is hard to go wrong with lentil soup. All that and it is good for you, too. And of course it is even better for you (and everyone else) if you seek out locally grown and organic ingredients. Enjoy.
Farmgirl's Use It Or Lose It Lentil & Escarole Soup
Makes About 8 to 10 cups
Few Tablespoons good olive oil
12 ounces onions, chopped (about 2 medium)
12 ounces carrots, chopped (about 3 to 4 medium)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups lentils, any kind
12 ounces fresh tomatoes, chopped (or 1 can tomatoes, any size, any kind; I love Muir Glen brand)
7 cups homemade chicken stock (or good quality storebought)
4 to 8 ounces (or more) escarole, coarsley chopped
Heat olive oil in a large pot on medium. Add onion and carrots and cook about 5 minutes, stirring so the oil coats the vegetables. Make a space in the bottom of the pan, add the garlic, and cook for another two minutes, stirring constantly, until the garlic is cooked but not brown.
Add the lentils, tomatoes, and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Simmer, with the lid cracked, for about 45 minutes. Stir every now and again.
Add the chopped escarole and cook another 5 minutes. Carefully puree about half of the soup in a blender on low speed until still slightly chunky, then return to the pot. Or use an immersion hand blender (I'm crazy about my KitchenAid Hand Blender) to puree the soup to desired consistency. Cook over medium heat another five minutes.
Serve hot, garnished as desired, and preferably with some kind of yummy bread, such as a crusty sourdough or a loaf of my Beyond Easy Beer Bread. (Just mix up the batter while the soup is coming to a boil, and you'll have hot, fresh bread ready when the soup is.) This soup keeps well for a few days in the refrigerator and freezes beautifully—assuming you haven't run out of freezer containers.
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