Now that Christmas and New Year’s celebrations are over, it’s time to take a deep breath and relax. One-pot meals are just the break that we need from all the cooking and baking of last month. The kitchen stays warm and steamy and smells so good. Soups, stews, crockpot roasts, chicken or pulled pork can simmer quietly while everyone is occupied elsewhere. When I’m home, I enjoy hanging out in the kitchen and keeping an eye on dishes that need a little more supervision but not a lot of effort. A good lentil soup is one such meal. I know people who think that lentils are either boring or nasty. The recipe I have used for years is one that is inspired by New Orleans, with bright flavors and is always a pleasant surprise to unenlightened lentil-haters. It never seems to last long enough to have for lunch the next day. The cream or half-and-half can be replaced by whole, or even non-fat milk but use less since the finished soup will be a little thinner. Either andouille or linguica sausage would be good alternatives to the bacon. Whether or not to puree’ is a matter of preference. Often, I do not in order to preserve the texture.
Cream of lentil soup
1 package dried lentils (any color)
1 quart water
2 quarts beef stock
4 slices bacon, diced
4 stalks celery, chopped
4 onions, peeled and chopped
1/2 green sweet bell pepper, chopped
Worcestershire sauce (to taste)
Tabasco (to taste)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
2 Cups cream or half-and-half
1 onion, peeled and sliced thin
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped or 1/2 tablespoon dried; crumbled
Fresh chives or green onion tops, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
Dry sherry (to taste)
Place lentils, water and beef stock in a 6- to 8-quart pot, with lid and bring to a simmer. In a skillet, sauté bacon and chopped vegetables until softened; about six minutes. Add to the pot. Cover and simmer until the lentils mash easily. Puree’ soup, in small batches in a food processor or blender and return to pot. (Alternatively, use a stick blender directly in the pot; safer, faster and easier).
Add the Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cream and keep hot at just under a simmer (do not allow soup to boil) while preparing the onion and rosemary garnish.
Sauté the sliced onion, along with the rosemary and chives or green onion tops, until onion is tender. Set aside.
Add the sherry to the soup just before serving (try a tablespoon at a time). Garnish each serving with a little mound of the onion/rosemary mixture. Serve at once with warm focaccia or ciabatta bread.
NOTE: Any extra garnish may be added into cooled leftover soup before refrigerating. Does not freeze well. Use any leftovers within 2-3 days.
Lori Bowles was raised in Southern California. She is currently serving on the board of directors as the advertising and publicity chair for the Lodi Bowmen Inc. She lives in Lodi with her husband Jeff and has three children and five grandchildren. She enjoys cooking, reading about cooking and reading about cooking while eating.