There's nothing that bothers me more than health foods that taste...ummm, healthy.
I like fresh. I like crunchy. I like colorful. But, overly healthy tasting foods, totes not for me. I often associate healthy with bland. And bland is not okay.
I use a big spoon. And a big bowl. I have a big mouth. I like to eat steamy, savory bowls of not-healthy-tasting-soup. Stop. Take a break. Possibly rub my tummy. Then, ladle another serving into my bowl and start again.
I've heard my mom say that she doesn't necessarily enjoy the practice of eating. She eats because she knows she has to. She'll eat a turkey and cheese "roll up", standing at the sink in between drying dishes and unloading the washer. Always something more important than food.
I like to say that eating and preparing food is the center of my universe and everything else has to find a home around it. This bowl of soup is worthy of the spot at the center of my universe. And, it's healthy as can be. What? Dig in.
I apologize that there is only this lame Instagram image to entice you. But don't be fooled by the lack of fancy images...I was too busy wiping broth off my chin.
The Best Lentil Soup
You'll have to forgive the casual nature (and length) of this recipe. I made it up as I went along. Most of it is chatty, so pretend you're in my kitchen. Wait, should I start Vlogging? I kid, I kid.
Start with a nice big heavy pot. Pour in some (a scant 1/4 cup) olive oil and warm over medium heat. Throw in 2 chopped onions, 4 chopped carrots and 4 chopped stalks of celery and a hefty pinch of red pepper flakes. While the vegetables are getting nice and tender, go pick some herbs. I used thyme, oregano, and rosemary, about two stems each. Wash them and tie them together with kitchen twine.
Back to the pot: add 1 bay leaf and a small can of tomato paste. Once the tomato paste gets a little melty and soft, add two heaping tablespoons of cumin. Get everything mixed together and let the spices and tomato paste mingle for a few minutes.
While the mingling is happening, wash one pound of dry brown lentils. If you want to get ahead, wash and chop one bunch of lacinato kale and 1/2 medium to small head of cabbage.
Back to the pot: Add the lentils, the bundle of herbs, 1 box of vegetable broth or the homemade equivalent and two cups of water. Also, add 1 rather large tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.* Bring the pot to a boil and then turn down to a healthy simmer, partially covered.
Now, while the lentils are cooking, make your toppings. In individual little bowls, (I use the HECK out of these) put chopped fresh parsley, grated Parm Regg, sour cream or yogurt, chopped red onion and anything else you think sounds good on soup. The thing that took this soup from good to "I Want This Every Night" for me; was that I had 1 pound of mushrooms in my fridge. I sliced them and sauteed them in a little butter and a little olive oil and sprinkled them with rosemary and salt. We each had heaping spoonfuls of those mushrooms on our soup. I suggest you do the same.
Back to the pot: At this point, about 35 minutes should have passed and you should have tender-ish lentils. Taste them. If you don't, keep cooking. If you do, add the cabbage and the kale and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and make sure everything is submerged. Maintain a healthy simmer and let it go for another 15-20 minutes. The cabbage should not be stiff, but it should have a subtle crunchy bite.
At this point, it sort of gets personal. Don't get nervous. I'm not going to lean in for a kiss. I am going to ask you to make the call from here on out. If you think the broth looks thick enough and you like the lentil/vegetable to broth ratio; turn the burner off, sister! If you think you want a thicker broth and less of it, keep it boiling till you see something you like. If it got too thick, add a cup of water or vegetable broth.
Just know, it's pretty hard to screw this up. So, be patient, and wait till it feels right. Wait, are we going to kiss?
Taste before serving, and add salt or pepper to taste. Don't be shy with the salt. When it come to soup, it really makes a difference. And, you're already being a bajillion times healthier than buying canned soup that is packed with more sodium than you have in your kitchen pantry.
Serve the soup with a warm crusty multigrain bread and a green salad. And extra napkins.
*If I would have had them, I might have added a can of diced tomatoes or a couple fresh ones at this point and I think it would have been great. I didn't, but that doesn't mean you can't!