Lentil soup is hearty, filling, tasty and comforting. And as with all the recipes in this series, it’s also inexpensive. Besides all that, lentils are nutritious; an excellent source of low-fat protein – making them a particularly valuable addition to a vegetarian or vegan diet – as well as fibre and micronutrients (including a range of vitamins, plus calcium, phosphorus and iron).
There are a number of different kinds of lentils (including red, green and Puy), and they come in various guises. Canned lentils have already been cooked and can be useful for all kinds of salads and side dishes. But as well as being cheaper, dried lentils tend to result in less waste (it might be difficult to know what to do with ½ can of leftover lentils). You don’t need to soak dried lentils before using them so they’re often just as convenient anyway, especially if you’re adding them to soups, stews and casseroles. Soaking them does reduce the cooking time, but they don’t take very long to cook in any case – about 40 minutes for green lentils, and less for other varieties. You should, however, rinse lentils before using them and pick out any that don’t look look.
If you aren’t used to cooking with lentils, then it seems as though they can take a bit of getting used to. But once you’ve added them to your repertoire it’s quite likely that you’ll begin to wonder how you ever managed without them: green lentils also work well as a stuffing for other vegetables; red lentils are used to make dhal; and the most majestic of lentils (the Puy lentil) is simply fantastic as an accompaniment to fish and meat (and can work particularly well in a sausage casserole). Perhaps I’ll get round to featuring some more of these recipes in future posts.
Anyway, this recipe – for a hearty lentil and spinach soup – makes enough for two generous portions, but if you’re after something lighter then it easily becomes enough for four. You can have it for lunch or supper, and it tastes great heated-up the next day (especially if you throw in another handful of spinach as as you’re reheating it – just before it’s served). The cheese is optional, but it does work really well, so do add some if you can. And whenever you have it, it also goes well with some crusty bread, or even toasted pitta.
And if you think that this recipe sounds good then you might also want to look at these:
[This is the sixth in a series of posts – you can find the first one here – prepared in response to a request from Jess, who has recently moved to London where she is a full-time student at LAMDA]
Recipe: Hearty Lentil and Spinach Soup
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 tomatoes, cut into large pieces
150g green lentils, rinsed and drained
1.3 litres vegetable stock
It’s fine to use a stock cube
A small handful of parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional: A small handful of grated pecorino, or other hard cheese
Makes 2 generous portions
Heat the oil over a medium-low heat in a large saucepan. Add the onion, carrot and dried herbs and sauté gently for 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and tomatoes and sauté for a further minute.
Tip in the lentils, stir, then add the stock and some salt and pepper.
Bring the soup to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
Add the parsley and spinach and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
Check the seasoning, then spoon into bowls to serve. Sprinkle over the grated cheese, if using.