Tuesday, March 15, 2011

french lentils: this must be what people call "inner beauty"

French lentil soup stew stoup bowl
First, let me get something out of the way.  I know this picture is terrible.  Disgusting, really.  I don't blame you if you don't want to make this dish from the looks of this particular picture.  But throw me a bone, because I am not a real blogger with a real camera.  I have a pink point-and-shoot that is more often on the floor of wherever I am than in my own hands.  Additionally, the blogosphere has this set of rules that you can't take other blogger's pictures.  Something about being "under copywrite".  So, I have to take photos with the aforementioned point-and-shoot instead of just doing a google image search for "french lentil soup."

Sunday afternoon I came down with a bad case of Monday anxiety.  A common 24-hour bug that afflicts millions, Monday anxiety sets in late in the weekend and is most often caused by an overindulgent, overzealous few days, changes in weather, and a daunting to-do list for the week ahead.  When all of these causes coincide with daylight savings time, it is a recipe for disaster, and the only prescription is simple, healthful comfort food.  Since DC is stuck in this "let's-have-the-temperature-hover-at-52-degrees-with-obnoxious-wind-gusts-and-no-sunshine-at-all-and-call-it-springtime" mood, a vegetarian french lentil soup fit the bill.  I have gotten really into making soups this fall and winter.  I love french lentil soup, but I've never made it without a ham hock or some kind bacon fat for flavor.  Wanting to stick to my resolution, I figured I'd try to do without it, but I made a half portion in case the stew was a flavorless fail. 

Well, the dish did end up as a quasi-fail, but not for lack of flavor.  It was just the "soup" part that failed.  I make this soup all the time, normally with great success, but something happened here.  Somewhere along the way, the vegetable stock was completely absorbed and I ended up with just lentils.  Maybe I mismeasured something, or maybe I let it all simmer too long - I am not really sure.  It was surely an operator error, as I was barely functional after returning from New York.  When I realized I had not a thin soup but a thick pot of cooked lentils, I stored the beans in tupperware, covered with an extra cup of vegetable broth, and went to bed.

On Monday morning, I opened the tupperware and, to my amazement, the beans had continued soaking up the extra liquid I put in, even though they were already cooked.  My poor lentils were ugly.  "Well," I thought. "If this tastes bad I am totally going to Taqueria Nacional."  (I obviously was still FOMO over the missed opportunity for La Esquina.)  I shoveled some of the ugly stuff into a smaller container to take for lunch, mixing it with a bit of leftover quinoa from last week's stuffed eggplant.  When 1pm rolled around, I begrudgingly heated it in the office microwave and wow - I was blown away!  Though I wanted it to be a soup, it turned out to be delicious, hearty, fork-based lunch that stuck to my ribs all day long - I didn't even have dinner until 8:30pm! Since it is so thick, the lentils would also be nice as a side dish or wrapped in a tortilla.  The nice thing about green lentils is that they weren't too mushy, because even when overcooked they still maintain their shape better than other lentils.

This recipe for lentils is for green lentils, French-style, though lentils make a terrific canvas for any flavoring you'd like.  I also love robust Moroccan flavors for regular brown lentils.  (Stay tuned for a Moroccan recipe next week!)

French lentils
Serves six

olive oil and/or butter
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 carrots, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped (or about 3 teaspoons minced garlic)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 pound dry green lentils (about 2 cups)
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons fresh or dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6-8 cups of stock, varying the amount of stock depending on desired thickness
Note:  I like a lot of "stuff" in my lentils.  If you don't want the extra veggies and potatoes, just cut it down or out entirely.  Most recipes only call for one stalk of celery and one carrot, for example.

Rinse the lentils and quickly sort through them to make sure there are no small pebbles in there.   Finely chop the onion, carrots, and celery.  In a large pot, saute the onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Let them all mix and cook for 5-7 minutes until they start to sweat.  Make sure they don't brown.  Then, add the sweet potato, lentils, stock, and spices.  Bring to a boil.  When it comes to a rapid boil, cut the heat down to low, cover, and simmer for about 40-45 minutes.  Make sure to keep checking on the soup to ensure the desired liquid content is maintained and lentils remain al dente.  I think that's where I went wrong!

That's it!  Hard to believe that I neglected the pot and ended up with a thick lentil dish instead of a thinner soup.  Either way, they are both tasty dishes!  This soup/stoup/hot mess also freezes very well.

P.S. On a completely unrelated note, what did y'all think of The Bachelor?  I must admit, NOT the outcome I expected, and, after watching the after-show, I can't say I'm pleased with the result.  (Not that I saw a great future with the other one, but I wasn't as happy as I thought I'd be when I learned who he chose.)  Yep, I said it....sorry, y'all, but I do not see a rosy future for those two.  I hope they prove me wrong.

ALSO, I get the stats for this blog and I know how many of you peeps are reading it.  It's a lot more than just the five of you who have commented.  Stealth readers, reveal yourselves!  Leave your feedback in the comments or shoot me an email.  Thanks!!

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