Can be vegetarian or vegan, see substitutes below!
I can’t say I was ever a big fan of lentil soup, but one attempt with French Indigo (or petite green) Lentils changed me forever. Try these tiny, blue-green lentils in any recipe calling for the more commonly found green-brown lentils. I really prefer their flavor. Since they cook in about 45 minutes, and hold their shape quite well, they are a good candidate for summer salads (remember summer?). Recently, a friend told me that as a child she and her siblings referred to it as mud soup. Yep, I can see that! Now that it is mud season in Northern New England, this is a good transition to what will eventually become more spring-like, or perhaps, actually spring.
I’ve made this soup forever. 4EVA! OK, for the past 22 years. Seems like forever. Loaded with vegetables, it’s a nourishing and comforting soup that I’ve adapted from the fabulous vegan cookbook, Recipes from an Ecological Kitchen, by Lorna Sass. She’s one of my favorite cookbook authors. This book was/is a kitchen staple for me. Published in 1992, it was a vegan cookbook before the word vegan was even used all that much. Lorna is brilliant with flavor profiles and she was pushing quinoa and kale back in the 90’s before it was mainstream. And, yes, her recipes usually involve a pressure cooker, which I use 100% of the time, but you don’t have to.
I went with stove top directions so you can make it in a good old soup pot. The way I’m thinking is that since this is only my fourth post…and I want you to stick around for a while, I won’t start pushing pressure cookers just yet…I have plenty of time to convince you over the next whatever, I don’t know, months, years, decades, that a pressure cooker is the way to go for fast meals that taste like they have been simmering on a back burner all day. Really. We’ll get there, but for now let’s just stick with stove-top and get this soup in your repertoire.
Other good news – it’s really agreeable to adaptation. It can go from being vegan to vegetarian to full out carnivore. Water, veg or chicken stock – they all work, but most of the time I just use water. Shredded spinach, kale, Swiss chard – doesn’t matter. Sausage or not, still good. In fact, most of time I don’t include it. I’m a huge fan of Aleppo pepper – everyone needs a jar of this in their spice cabinet. I hardly ever use crushed red pepper any longer — Aleppo is always my first choice.
Aleppo Pepper. Definitely not my mise en place bowl, just the only little white dish I had!
Just don’t leave out the balsamic vinegar, as that’s the secret sauce to giving the broth a deep muddy satisfying color. For many moons, I garnished the soup with grated Parmesan, but then once, I was sans Parmesan (horrors), and a package of Feta cheese served as the understudy (I’m of Greek descent and my husband is Italian, so we usually have both in our cheese drawer). It was a stroke of luck, as the contrast of the salty, creamy Feta, slightly melting on top of the hot soup was preferred by all Italians present that day long ago (husband and childhood friend). Greeks-1.
During early spring, when the weather is erratic at best, steaming bowlfuls along with a salad and crusty bread, provide a soothing, satisfying meal.
Happy Mud Season, y’all!
Some days I feel like this cup.
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cups chopped onions (2 large onions)
- 3 large cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- ¾ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or crushed red pepper flakes)
- 2 cups chopped celery (about 3 large ribs, halved lengthwise and sliced)
- 2 cups chopped carrots (about 2 large carrots)
- 6 to 8 ounces white or baby bella mushrooms, wiped clean, stems trimmed, halved and sliced
- 2 quarts of water, chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 cups French indigo lentils
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 - 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
- Optional: 12 ounces fully cooked sausage, sliced diagonally (omit to keep it vegan or vegetarian)
- ¾ cup shredded baby spinach or kale
- ¼ cup finely minced parsley
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- Garnish: 6 – 7 ounces crumbled Feta cheese (omit to keep it vegan)
- In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and garlic, reduce heat to medium, cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add thyme and oregano (to release their fragrance, rub the herbs between your fingers over the pot), then add Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper flakes, and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Add celery, carrots and mushrooms, and cook until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add water or stock, lentils, and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and simmer for 40 minutes, partially covered.
- Add tomatoes and sausage, (if using) and gently simmer for 20 minutes, partially covered.
- Add spinach, parsley, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes to wilt greens. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly.
- Ladle into heated bowls, garnish with the crumbled Feta cheese and serve immediately.