LENTIL SOUP,  5-14-15

A one pound bag of lentils makes an enormous amount of soup.  Start your experimenting with half a bag or so. Lentils do not need to soak before cooking, but they should be washed before you start, since there may be lumps of dirt or small rocks among the dry lentils. Put the lentils in a pot, cover with cold water, agitate with your hand and then strain through a mesh colander and rinse.

With tomato sauce:

Peel one carrot and slice into disks or dice. Peel a small onion and chop. Wash trim and slice or dice one rib celery. Peel and chop one or two cloves of fresh garlic. Warm a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium size sauce pan, add the vegetables and saute until they are tender. Add ½ pound of dry lentils, washed and drained, and enough water or broth to cover. Toss in a bay leaf and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook until tender, about half an hour. If you want potatoes in the soup this is the time to add one or two potatoes, peeled, washed and diced.  Add 2 cups (or more) tomato  sauce and continue to cook until lentils melt in your mouth and soup is desired thickness. Add salt and pepper, hot pepper, fresh herbs as desired. Serve with an addition of cooked pasta, grated parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil, croutons, etc. This may also serve as a sauce over pasta or rice.

With a meat broth:

Start with a meaty bone, perhaps a lamb shank, ham bone, chicken carcass, or a portion of raw chicken leg, breast, etc. Cover with cold water, add bay leaf, bring to a simmer, and cook gently until meat is very tender. Remove meat, set aside, strain broth. Prepare and saute soup vegetables as above, add lentils and broth and simmer until lentils are meltingly tender, 45 minutes. Meanwhile, remove meat from bones, trim away fat and gristle and cut into bite sized pieces. Add to tender lentils, correct seasoning, adjust to desired thickness with more broth or water. Corn bread or biscuits are always good with lentil soup.

With escarole or other greens:

Wash and drain lentils and cover with water, add a bay leaf and cook 30 minutes or so. While lentils are cooking, trim heavy end off head of fresh escarole, remove any bad leaves, cut crossways into 1 inch ribbons, wash well and drain in a colander. In dutch oven, heat 2 Tablespoons or so of olive oil, add 2 or 3 cloves of peeled fresh garlic and saute very briefly, add the escarole and stir vigorously until it wilts down. Escarole soups are usually highly seasoned with hot pepper flakes or fresh hot pepper(s) to taste. Add the cooked lentils and water to cover and continue simmering until lentils and greens are tender.

You may elect to start escarole and lentils with Italian sausage, either hot or sweet. Pierce the sausage casing in several places, brown in the dutch oven, splash in ¼ cup red wine and scrape up brown bits. Allow wine to evaporate and add garlic cloves as above, then escarole, then lentils and water to cover and simmer until tender. Remove sausage and cut into bite sized pieces and return to lentils.