Friday, October 11, 2013

Lentil Soup with Garlicky Vinaigrette

I am continuing to plagiarism my own recipes, which I promise to start doing only intermittently rather than regularly, but this is the other one I seem most to be emailed about. Thousands of people a day write, begging for lentil soup.

Even though they should be concerned, given that this little tidbit was in our local police blotter. (Seriously. I mean, they shouldn't seriously be concerned. But this was seriously in the paper.)

Please do not tell my children that the police are a good resource for a domestic legume situation.
Take your chances. Here's the recipe, verbatim, from a couple of years ago. I make it nearly weekly, almost always in the Crock Pot.

I have the world's cheapest Crock Pot, but it has worked great for years.
Lentils, well, nobody's going to stand alongside the red carpet in screaming delirium when they appear. But they are such a staple around here that I can't believe I don't write about them every week.

I make a lentil salad, for instance, that is shockingly good, given its dun presentation; it's like some kind of a flavor geode, and you put a forkful in your mouth with low expectations and then--yowza. You're all aglitter with the deliciousness. ("Why is this so good?" people want to know and I say, "Stick of butter.") Likewise, this soup, which is deeply, brownly satisfying and then just the tiniest bit sparkly from the spoonful of garlicky vinaigrette you've drizzled over it.

That vinaigrette idea is a trick from this book--which, come to think of it, is where the lentil salad recipe is from, so maybe I'm officially recommending it. The soup itself is very basic but very good--the lentil soup I've been making, more or less, for the past million years. Sometimes I slip slices of garlicky sausage, kielbasa say, into it (Those were the days! It doesn't seem right to make a lentil soup that the vegetarian can't eat.); sometimes I add a couple of diced potatoes at the start; sometimes I stir in an entire bag of baby spinach right at the end.

Other than that, it's more or less the same. Except for the method, which changes based on the level of planning I've achieved. If I think to, I make it in the morning, set my slow cooker to low, and then spend my day abask in the crockpotty righteousness known only to invisible soup cookers.

If it's 5, and all the cabinets are open, and there's a giant question mark in a thought bubble over my head, then I make it the regular way, in a soup pot on the stovetop. And if it's 6:30, and the question mark is preceded by a starving "What the," then I make it in the pressure cooker, which takes just about half an hour start to finish (for pressure cooker people, I cook it at high pressure for 9 minutes, and then let the steam release naturally). Michael likes to tease me with that old Stephen Wright joke (For my birthday I got a humidifier and a de-humidifier... I put them in the same room and let them fight it out.) But hey, I'm a pressure cooker/slow cooker kind of girl.

Lentil Soup
Serves 6
Active time: 15 minutes; total time: 1 hour (conventional) or 3-6 hours (slow cooker)

This is a very forgiving recipe. If you don't have broth, use all water. If you're dying to get this into your crock pot and are already in your work clothes and you simply can't sauté the veggies first, then dump them all in raw. But make the vinaigrette, because it's that one detail that raises this from the depths of humdrum to the heights of moderately exciting.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 cup tomato sauce
2 cups lentils, rinsed and drained (I like to use the tiny green lentils de puy for this, but regular brown lentils are just fine too)
4 cups chicken or veggie broth (or more water)
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon balsamic or sherry vinegar

¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic or sherry vinegar
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/2 teaspoon salt

Slow cooker method:
Heat the olive oil in a wide pan and sauté the veggies with the salt over medium heat until they're limp and browning--around ten minutes. Add them to your slow cooker with all the remaining ingredients and cook on high for 3 hours, or on low for 6. Meanwhile, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients. Taste the soup for salt, then serve with a drizzle of vinaigrette over each bowl.

Stovetop method:
Add the lentils to a soup pot with the broth, water, bay leaf, and thyme, and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Heat the olive oil in a wide pan and sauté the veggies with the salt over medium heat until they're limp and browning--around ten minutes--then add the tomato sauce and vinegar. Scrape this mixture into the cooking lentils, stir, and simmer the soup over very low heat, partially covered, for an hour, stirring every now and again to keep it from sticking, and adding water if it looks like it’s drying out. When the lentils are nice and creamy, taste the soup for salt, then serve with a drizzle of vinaigrette over each bowl.


  1. Any suggestions for someone who wants to add meat to this (in the slow cooker)? Thanks!

    1. Yes! Garlicky sausage (e.g. kielbasa), sliced and sauteed, then added in the last couple of hours.

    2. Anonymous5:04 PM

      My mother always added garlicky Kosher hot dogs . . . which we loved as kids.

  2. We make this recipe all time! My boys both made it to include in a 6th grade Home and Careers project our school does. They both claim the "special sauce" as THEIRS. LOL. This recipe is wonderful - now I can pin it!

    1. I love the ownership they take! Perfect.

  3. Crockpotty righteousness is so much better when you also have vegetarian righteousness on your side. Thank you.

  4. Mmmm sounds delicious. Can you clarify what you mean by tomato sauce? In Australia that's what we call ketchup, and I'm guessing you don't mean that. Is it like tomato puree or passata?

    1. Emma, puree or passata would be perfect. The sauce I mean is not ketchup (glad you asked!) it's more like, um, cheap, plain pizza or spaghetti sauce with no seasoning.

    2. Got it! (although I have been known to use ketchup in place of tomato puree in emergency situations... not too bad!)

  5. Erin K.5:43 PM

    This sounds great and I love lentil soup! I've been making a similar one from a mysterious magazine clipping in my recipe book - but it says its from Canyon Ranch - anyway - once it's nearly done it has you stir in a spoonful of seedy mustard which probably does a similar thing as the vinaigrette.

    oh, and on facebook yesterday BrainChild posted a link to an article you wrote a while ago called 'it gets better' it was awesome to read again and it was exactly what my sister needed to read right now and I immediately sent it to her - so thanks for that :)

  6. Oh good, I've got some garlicky kielbasa in the freezer that needs to go. Thanks for planning my meals for the week!

  7. I'm buying green lentils at the co-op tonight and cooking it manyana!

  8. P.S. I already have the vinaigrette. My mom always had it on-hand growing up. I put pepper and a little dijon mustard in, too!

  9. I love the secret sauce idea. I've adapted the black bean chili recipe from Greens Restaurant to be kid friendly by removing the chilis in adobo, but I purée some with apple cider vinegar for the adults to sprinkle. So good.

    1. Care to share that chili recipe and the specifics of your secret sauce using the adobo, Courtney?

  10. Anonymous6:00 AM

    Love the vinegar touch. I'm going to make this dish this week!! Admittedly I'm going to add a sausage or two or three ;)-

  11. I made this for dinner tonight and it was delicious! After my first lentil soup failure a while back, I was afraid to try again, but my whole family liked this. I'll definitely be making it again!

  12. Anonymous3:17 PM

    Catherine, 911!!!! Your Brown Stew recipe no longer pulls up on Disney Family. Please, repost, I cannot remember the temperature (I think it was 325)

  13. This is one of my most favorite recipes of yours. My husband and I both love it and always spend much of the time eating it by commenting on how the vinaigrette really "makes" the dish. Thanks for reposting it!

  14. This was AMAZING!!!!!! Will become a weekly meal for sure- we are in the end of PhD work and are so in need of good budget meals. I pureed it for my wee people and they ate it up. They aren't quite able to do chunks... Thank you- as always!

  15. Libramom100810:55 PM

    The police blotter item is hilarious. If my kids ever thought of it, one or the other would be calling weekly to complain.

  16. Oh, Catherine, I'm such a weirdo. The only canned soup that I enjoy is lentil soup, and I love it, pretty much regardless of brand. But I've tried making lentil soup myself 4 or 5 times and even based it off the ingredient list on the can, and it never ever tastes as good. The flavors don't marry properly and it might turn out okay, but not great. I will have to try your recipe for lentil soup though because I'm determined to find a recipe I love! Lentils just seem to be difficult for me to cook properly. I once stood by the stove and watched an Indian friend make the most delicious lentil curry. Saw what ingredients he used and wrote everything down. Went home, made it, and it was extremely unimpressive :(

  17. I made this tonight and LOVED it! Thank you so much. The vinaigrette on top was divine.

  18. Anonymous7:20 PM

    *****YUM! Made this tonight for din. Hubby and I both loved it. the vinaigrette really makes the difference. However, I did cook some macaroni on the side to add. Served with wonderful hot rolls. Will make this again definitely. Mary B

  19. I've been making this regularly for the last year. My kids love it (4 and 6) and we're increasingly relying on the slow cooker as life gets busier. I send the recipe to everyone, and also recommend Waiting for Birdy to everyone, and always religiously read your gift guides. I'm turning into a nerdy super-fan. xo