I fell in love with lentil soup out of a sense of obligation. On a cold winter day on an early trip to Paris, I stepped inside a small bistro to get out of a frigid winter mist. Why ever did I book a trip to France in January, I wondered? Shivering and cold, all I thought I wanted was a cup of tea. But it was lunchtime and people were eating. I felt compelled to order something to warrant occupying a table. Low on cash, I chose the soup du jour, a casual French green lentil soup studded with bits of smoky bacon.
Ever since, on cold winter days, I yearn for lentil soup. The quality of the lentils does make a difference. While it’s good with the supermarket-variety brown lentils, it takes on a heightened flavor if you use French green or other quality lentils. What’s great about this soup is its inherent versatility. You can make it gluten-free vegan or dose it with bacon, ham or sausage to satisfy a carnivore craving. Use chicken stock or vegetable stock. Want a smokier flavor? Try fire-roasted canned tomatoes. Want it spicier? Twist the flavor with some curry at the end.
In the video above, Seattle food writer Cynthia Lair demonstrates how to make lentil soup. She adds extra greens at the end, which you can do with this recipe, too.
Go with the Flow Lentil Soup
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 to 3 ribs of celery, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 to 2 carrots, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 to 5 cups-plus vegetable broth or chicken stock
1 1/4 cups lentils, rinsed, drained
1 teaspoon thyme, herbs de Provence or other seasoning
1 14 1/2–ounce can diced tomatoes
6 oz. cooked ham, bacon or sausage in bite-size pieces (optional)
Balsamic vinegar (optional)
Handful fresh chopped herbs (optional)
Heat oil in heavy large 3 quart or larger saucepan or pot over medium–high heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic; sauté until vegetables soften and begin to brown, about 12 minutes. Add the stock or broth, lentils, tomatoes with juice, herbs and bacon or ham (if using) and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium–low, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes.
With a vegetable masher or immersion blender, briefly puree about a quarter of the soup if desired for a creamier texture. Alternately, carefully transfer 1 to 2 cups of the soup to a blender and puree until smooth; be sure to remove the lid and instead cover the hole with a kitchen towel to avoid creating a vacuum in the blender and then return the puree to the pot. Thin the soup as desired with water or broth if you think it’s too thick. Taste and season with salt, pepper and a bit of vinegar and chopped fresh herbs if desired.