Lentil soup is for those days where you want something healthy and filling for dinner, tons of lunch leftovers, but don't want to stuff around with a trip to the store. Brown lentils (or any kind really, but brown are typically cheapest) are a great pantry staple since they last forever and you are a straight-up fool if you pay more than $1.50 for a pound.
This recipe is infinitely adaptable and in The Trash Salad style is sort of half-based on the recipe on the package and half-based on things I had lying around. The only unskippable minor ingredient is the vinegar or lemon juice which makes all the difference between a delicious soup and a bland pot of brown. The acid makes the lentils have a satisfying meaty quality, which is really what you're aiming for when cooking vegetarian food (or in this case, vegetarianish).
Now, this soup is quick in the sense that it only takes maybe 10 minutes of chopping and throwing things in a pot followed by 30-45 minutes of beer-drinking downtime waiting for the lentils to simmer. If you were clever and prone to planning ahead, you could cook them in advance and keep them in the fridge or freezer and then you'd be able to really make some magic. Some recipes suggest that you rinse and pick through your lentils before cooking, but this is a massive waste of time. In the interest of full disclosure, I have had a couple of pebble soup incidents over the years (only from bags, not the bulk bin lentils), but the ~5% chance of this happening does not outweigh the 15-20 minute time savings.
Tonight's version was a simple affair featuring bacon grease, smoked tofu, and spinach served with Franks hot sauce and a poached egg with a side of arrugula-based trash salad topped with sriracha mayo (oh, but more on that later).
Total time: 45 min-1 hour (Active time 10 minutes)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fat (bacon grease, butter, olive oil, whatever)
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 ribs celery, diced (OR the skinny core of the celery bunch, leaves included)
- 2 skinny carrots, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 10 cups (2.5 L) water
- 2 cups (or a 1lb bag) of brown lentils
- 2 bay leaves (optional but I really like them)
- Extra bits to add during cooking*
- 2 tablespoons vinegar (any kind, or 3tbsp lemon juice)
- salt to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon)
- Extra bits to add during the last few minutes of cooking**
- Extra bits to add when serving***
Add lentils, water, bay leaves, and your first lot of extra bits and stir. Bring to a boil then cover and turn the heat to low. Simmer for 30-45 minutes until lentils are as soft as you like.
Fish out your bay leaves (if using) and add vinegar, salt, and the second lot of extra bits and stir. Taste, and reseason if desired. Add more water if soup is too thick for your liking.
Serve with your third dose of extra bits.
Extra bits suggestions
*During cooking: 1-2 teaspoons dried herbs (oregano, basil, thyme), 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 3-6 slices of diced cooked bacon or ham, half a block of tofu diced, 1 diced chipotle chili with 1 tsp adobo sauce, 2 tablespoons tomato paste (or ketchup in a pinch), 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes (you'll want to reduce the water if you do this), or substitute some or all of the water for broth or stock. Extra winter veggies are also good, especially potatoes and butternut squash.
**Last few minutes of cooking: fresh diced tomatoes, 1-2 cups of thinly sliced spinach or kale, frozen edamame, chopped fresh cilantro or basil
***Serving: a poached egg, cooked rice, few tablespoons of greek yogurt or sour cream, salsa, garlicky croutons, flavorful crumbled or shredded cheese, hot sauce, chives, green onions, chili flakes, french fried onions, sliced avocado