Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Loving Lentils

The lentils we get are the Laird variety.
   Mmmm....lentil soup. One of my most favorite things to eat on a cold and cloudy day. I feel like it's got magical powers that can just seep into your soul and warm it right up. Lentil soup is a staple in Greek cuisine as well as in many other cultures in the Middle East, India and Africa. It's a phenomenal source of iron and protein, which is pretty sweet considering many cultures eating this are vegetarian. To learn more about how awesomely healthy these littles guys are, check out this link right here.

   Lentils come in over 10 varieties that include many shapes, sizes and colors and in comparison to other legumes, they have a huge advantage to that they do not need soaking ahead of time. You do, however, need to sort through them before cooking just in case there are some small stones or bruised lentils amongst them to pick out and discard. Lentils on their own cook relatively fast (about 30 minutes, give or take) and can be very versatile in how they are cooked.  They make an excellent soup, can be cooked with rice and can be included in a variety of salads as well (I've also heard it's a great meat substitute in chilis!)
    I've also noticed lentil soup popping up in many upscale restaurants but more often than not, lardons (fancy French word for pork fat) are added and personally, it ruins the soup for me. Lentil soup is something I personally like to keep strictly vegetarian however, if you want to include a nice cut of steak in there, then by all means, go ahead and do just that! 
   That's the beauty with lentils! They are very versatile and so easy to make! Just making soup out of them alone can result to a variety of different flavors, depending on what other ingredients you decide to include in it.  

Look at those pretty colors!!!
  The following recipe is Lentil soup how my father and I like to enjoy it. It's very similar to the way Greek households prepare it and for us, the table condiments are a must!

Yummy Lovely Lentil Soup
4 servings

What you'll need:
1 and a half cups of lentils, picked and rinsed
1 cup fresh tomatoes (about 2 large ripe tomatoes), grated
garlic and lots of it (I use around 8-10 cloves), sliced in slivers
2 medium sized onions, medium chop 
I medium sized carrot, medium dice 
2-3 small to medium size bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seed, optional
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes, optional
about 5 cups water or homemade vegetable stock
salt and pepper, to taste

The table condiments:

Some delicious feta cheese
black olives (preferably pickled)
extra virgin olive oil (always)
vinegar (red or white, whatever you prefer)

 A few side notes:

- I personally tend to go easy on the carrots in this soup. One carrot too many and the soup is too sweet for my liking,

- Celery is another great ingredient to add to this soup but for some reason...I never add it!

- The liquid measurement is an estimation. You want enough to cover the lentils but also to have left over once the lentils are done absorbing what liquid they need.

- The chili flakes and cumin are definitely optional but HIGHLY recommended !! I guess if you're not into spicy foods, omit the chili flakes but the cumin seriously adds a whole other level of aroma and flavor to this soup! Today was actually the first time tasting lentil soup with cumin in it and I must say, I don't think I want to eat lentil soup without it again! (I know, I know, the littlest things excite me...)

- The onions become somewhat invisible once the soup is done so don't worry to much about how you chop it. As long as it's even, small size pieces, you're good to go.

- In the cooking instructions below, I mention sautéing the veggies and lentils first before adding the liquid. I find that the sautéed veggies do add a little extra flavor to the final result but it isn't a vital cooking step to the soup. So,if you're pressed for time, you can definitely omit this step and just literally throw all the ingredients in the pot at once and proceed to step 3!

                                              I have my music playing, do you?

1. Alright, heat some olive oil in your medium sized pot (enough to cover the bottom of it) and saute your onion, garlic and carrot. Cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes or until you see some golden color forming on the onions and garlic.

2. Stir in lentils and cook for a few more minutes. Add the tomatoes and the cooking liquid. 

 3. Turn the heat to high and let the soup reach a boil. In the mean time, add the bay leaf and other spices. Add a small amount of salt and pepper and taste as you go to see if you need more.

The finished good stuff

4. Once soup has come to a boil, turn the heat to low. You want the soup to cook in a slow, simmering trance. Cook for about an hour and a half or until carrots are soft (everything else cooks a tad faster) and all the flavors have come together oh so beautifully.

    Now the fun part!!! Once you serve the food in a bowl, take a look at your condiments and go to town with 'em! If you're gonna omit anything, please don't let it be the oil and vinegar. The flavor they add is wonderful! Olives and feta are very popular in Greece and some bread to soak up that tasty liquid is definitely recommended! 

Once all is said and done, you get this:

Κάλη Όρεξη!!!



  1. ewwww lentils...altho that finished product looks like the beans my mom would make. beans, not lentils cus lentils are ick.

  2. This makes me want to give lentils a try!