Monday, January 07, 2013

Winter Warmth: Creamy French Lentil Soup

Cold winter days call for hearty soups and one of our mainstays is this creamy French lentil soup. The recipe elevates the lowly lentil, which is quick to cook, cheap to buy and good for you, but often overlooked.

Lentils are a member of the legume family and come in a variety of colors from a dull brown to green, to French black to a vibrant red/orange, and are sold in one-pound bags or in the bulk aisle of grocery stores. The benefits are myriad and, given their diminutive size, rather amazing. First is the amount of dietary fiber packed in these little guys; one cup provides 62% of your daily dietary fiber requirement, which in addition to the high percentages of magnesium and folate, make them a heart healthy choice. You also get six minerals, two B vitamins, and 35% of your daily protein requirement, and it only adds up to 229 calories. All this and they are basically fat-free.

Lentils can be cooked plainly with some diced garlic and onion and curry to make a simple daal (served with plain yogurt), or they can be dressed up with lots of veggies, herbs, and meat, and served for supper, like they are here.

This recipe took about 5 minutes to prep and 10 minutes of hands-on cooking time, and spanned 80 minutes start to finish, the bulk of which it is just simmering on the stove. So you can come home, get it started, and relax for an hour or so. Served with some hearty bread, this makes a complete meal, given the vegetables incorporated in the soup.

Note: While the recipe calls for bacon, chicken stock and cream, you can make a vegetarian and vegan version. The bacon can be omitted, using a bit of olive oil to sauté the onions and garlic. Vegetable stock can substitute for the chicken stock, and there are vegan (soy, tofu and nut-based) cream alternatives.

Creamy French Lentil Soup

4 ounces sliced bacon, diced
2 cup diced onions
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 cup brown lentils
2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups diced tomato
3 bay leaves
1 cup whipping cream
Salt, nutmeg, cayenne, and white pepper to taste
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Heat a 4-quart pot and cook bacon until crispy. Add the onions and garlic and cook over a medium heat until brown. Then add thyme, bay leaves, carrots, celery, and lentils and stir well. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer, and cook for 40 minutes until the lentils are soft. Cover the pot and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

Uncover the pot and add the tomatoes, cream, basil and seasoning and return to a simmer for 5 minutes.

YIELD: 6-8 servings

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