Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Every now and then (about twice per winter, on the darkest and wettest of days) I get a hankering for lentils. Luckily, I have a good recipe for an easy lentil soup. Unluckily (or less luckily, anyway), A doesn’t really like lentils. And although he’s quite the champ about trying everything I make, eating one serving without complaint even if he doesn’t care for it, comforting me if I'm disappointed in the product of my labors, and enduring my barrage of requests for reassurance (“Do you like it? It’s good, right? You’d have it again?”—being the companion of a food blogger is a burden sometimes, I imagine), I can always tell whether he really likes something based on how much he eats the leftovers. And the last time I made lentil soup, I had to slog my way solo through all four remaining bowls, which dampened my enthusiasm for it a bit.

So when I saw this bacon- and sausage-studded lentil stew at Simply Recipes, I thought (a) “That looks delicious!” and (b) “That might be a good way to get A to enjoy lentil soup!” (If you haven't noticed by now, "bacon" is pretty much the magic word where A is concerned.) Besides the addition of meat, the recipe isn’t too different from my old one, only without the tomatoes and with some additional seasonings. I went easy on the cumin, not wanting my soup to taste like tacos, but in the end it wasn’t too assertive and paired well with the flavor of the lentils. And I downright loved the hit of vinegar stirred in just before serving—I didn’t have sherry vinegar, and while the recipe suggested cider vinegar as a substitute, I went with balsamic, one my secret ingredients for pizza sauce, and was not sorry.

But alas, all this deliciousness did not win A over to the lentil-eating team. He didn’t hate the soup, but he ended up picking out all of the meat and leaving about a quarter of a bowlful of lentils behind, and once again I was left with all the leftovers (and there were a lot of them; the recipe claimed to serve 4-5, but I got 7 bowlsful out of it). The difference was that this time, I devoured them eagerly. Paired with brown bread, this was a perfect soup for our recent rainy winter days, zesty and hearty, and the extra herbs and spices and the smoky undertones from the meat made this a marked improvement over my older, simpler recipe (which is still quite worthy and delicious, I hasten to add, particularly if you want something cheap and vegetarian). So it was a qualified success.

I found the recipe to be straightforward and self-explanatory. It takes a bit of time, but most of that is hands-off simmering time. For the sausage, I used spicy chicken andouille from Trader Joe's, which is not only delicious but also precooked, enabling me to skip the sausage-browning step of the recipe. I liked the heat and peppery smokiness they added to the soup, but really, you can use just about any type of sausage you enjoy here.

⅓ pound of bacon (about 5 thick slices), diced
1 medium-large yellow or white onion, chopped (about 1¼ cups)
2–3 large carrots, diced (⅔ cup)
2–3 large ribs celery, diced (⅔ cup)
½–1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 pound brown or green dry lentils, rinsed and picked over to remove any debris
3 cups water
3 cups chicken stock
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
½ pound Italian sausage (mild, sweet, or spicy, your choice) or smoked sausage, in links (about 2–3 links)
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar (can sub cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar)
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, with a little extra for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat a large, thick-bottomed pot (6 to 8 quarts) on medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until much of the fat has rendered and the bacon is browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove bacon from pan to a paper-towel-lined dish and set aside. Remove (and discard or reserve for another use) all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat from the pot.

2. Heat the remaining fat on medium high and add the carrots, onions, celery, and cumin. Cook until softened, about 5–7 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and cook a minute more, until fragrant.

3. Add back in the cooked bacon, rinsed lentils, stock, water, thyme, and bay leaf. At this point, add a teaspoon of salt and some pepper. You will season more to taste later. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook partially covered until lentils are tender, about 40 minutes.

4. While the lentils are cooking, heat a frying pan on medium heat. Add the Italian sausage links. Gently cook, browning on all sides, until just cooked through. Remove from pan and let cool enough to handle. (All this can be skipped if your sausages are precooked.) Slice sausage and add to stew for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

5. Add vinegar and parsley to stew. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serves: 6–8
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: High

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