Warm & Wintry Lentil Soup

Hell may have frozen over because it's actually raining in L.A. Talk about a welcome sight (and sound) when I woke up today. Given that it's December 7, it's time for some cold, rainy weather. I'll never complain about perfect, 80 degree and sunny beach weather the rest of the year, but it's just not right during the holidays. If I could have my way, L.A. would be covered with a beautiful blanket of snow and everyone would be in scarves, jackets and mittens. :)

I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for L.A. to turn into a winter wonderland, so I'm going to celebrate the rain and cold by making some fabulous lentil vegetable soup. It's one of my favorite recipes and while I originally made it using Ina Garten's recipe, I've made it enough times that I've really turned it into my own version.

For example, there is no meat in Ina's version so I add bite-sized chunks of chicken, shrimp and spicy sausage. It's almost more of a lentil jambalaya instead of a soup, but still great with a chunk of warm, crusty bread. It's delicious, hearty and freezes really well, too, as the recipe makes about generous 8-10 servings. Get ready to warm your tummy on this cold, wintry day.

Here's the recipe:
  • 1 pound dry lentils
  • 4 cups chopped yellow onions (~3 large onions)
  • 4 cups chopped leeks, white park only (~2 leeks)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (~3 gloves)
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil, plus two teaspoons for cooking the chicken
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 cups medium-diced celery (~8 stalks)
  • 3 cups medium-diced carrots (~4 to 6 carrots)
  • 3 quarts chicken stock
  • 5-6 chicken cutlets, cut into bite-sized pieces and pre-cooked
  • 1/2 pound shelled and de-veined raw shrimp
  • 4 pre-cooked spicy sausage links, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons red wine or red wine vinegar*
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, warm 2 teaspoons olive oil and add the chicken pieces. Saute until the chicken is cooked through, about 3-5 minutes. Set aside on a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb any liquid.

Time to start on the soup itself. In a large stockpot on medium heat, saute the onions, leeks and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme and cumin for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and very tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 10 more minutes.

Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, lentils, and pieces of chicken and sausage. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for one hour, until the lentils are cooked through. Add the chunks of raw shrimp and gently fold them into the soup until they are covered. Cook for 3-5 more minutes until the shrimp is cooked through. Check the seasonings. Add the red wine (or red wine vinegar) and serve hot, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with grated Parmesan. Mmmm...

*A note on red wine vinegar from Ina Garten: Red wine vinegars vary greatly in strength. Put half the vinegar in the soup, taste it, and add the rest if you want more. Williams-Sonoma has a really good but strong Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Red Wine Vinegar.

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