I love cooking with lentils. They’re cheap, cook up fast, and don’t require a pre-soak like dried beans, plus they come in seemingly endless varieties. They work great in soups, stews, pilaf-type dishes, and cold salads.
Even just within the category of lentil soup recipes, there seems to be endless variation. There are versions from Middle Eastern, Indian, and European culinary traditions, as well as modern interpretations, like the recipe below.
This is one of my favorite lentil soups because it is quick, easy, and packs a ton of flavor, in addition to being cheap. It works because it includes two acidic ingredients (red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar, and dijon mustard), which intensify the flavors of the rest of the dish. Served with a high-quality, filling bread, this is easily a complete meal.
See below for a tabulation of costs as well as recommendations, tips, and tricks.
“Hearty Lentil Soup” from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
2 tbs. olive oil
2 cups finely diced onion
3 large garlic cloves
salt and freshly milled pepper
3 tbs. tomato paste
1/3 cup finely diced celery
1/3 cup finely diced carrot
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 1/2 cups French green or brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 tbs. Dijon mustard
1 tbs. sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
Chopped celery leaves and parsley
Heat the oil in a soup pot over high heat. Add the onion and saute until it begins to color around the edges, 5 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile mince or pound the garlic in a mortar with 1 tsp. salt. Work the tomato paste into the onion, then add garlic, celery, carrot, bay leaves, and parsley and cook for 3 minutes. Add the lentils, 2 quarts water, and 1/2 tsp. salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are tender, 25 to 35 minutes.
Stir in the mustard and vinegar. Taste and add more of either as needed. Check the salt, season with plenty of pepper, remove the bay leaves and serve, garnished with the celery leaves and parsley. The longer the soup sits before serving the better it will taste.
Cost of core ingredients: This is something I am going to try to do for the recipes I post here, though it’s a little tricky because there’s no
good easy way to estimate the cost of things that you only use a bit of (like olive oil, vinegar, garlic, etc.). So I will just take a stab at estimating the cost of the main ingredients, with the caveat that the actual cost of the dish is a bit more. The costs listed below are for primarily organic ingredients purchased at my food co-op, so the cost of this dish would presumably be less if you shop at a conventional grocery store.
Lentils: ~0.6 lbs. @ $1.79/lb = ~$1.07
One large onion: ~$1.20
Two carrots: ~$1.15
Half bunch parsley (I’ll use the other half later this week): $1.00
Total for 4+ hearty servings: ~$4.42 + the cost of two stalks of celery plus small amounts of olive oil, garlic, tomato paste, bay leaves, dijon mustard, and red wine vinegar, plus good bread for serving
Possible or recommended variations:
- French lentils (sometimes known as Le Puy lentils) tend to be expensive and not widely available. They’re cute and pretty, but not worth the extra cost. Substitute regular green or brown lentils – you won’t notice a difference.
- I usually add a bit of veggie or chicken bullion when I add the water, for a bit more flavor.
- I really like my foods acidic, so I tend to double the vinegar and mustard – I find it kicks up the flavor a bit.
- Regular yellow mustard would work fine here if you don’t want to buy a separate mustard. However, I wouldn’t recommend using other vinegars. Double the mustard if you don’t have red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar and don’t want to buy it.
- Increase the lentils to 1 3/4 – 2 cups for a heartier, more filling soup-stew.
Tips and tricks:
- Celery will actually keep for several weeks to a month in the crisper, if you’re willing to cut out a couple bad bits here and there, so you can use the same bunch for many meals.
- Freeze leftover tomato paste in tablespoon-sized blobs (I put them on a plastic plate, and then move them into a ziploc bag once frozen) to avoid having to purchase a brand new can every time you cook with tomato paste.