A few days ago we had dinner with some friends, one of whom likes cooking and considers herself to be a good cook. Unfortunately that night she made lentil soup, a dish for which I have fairly high standards. I love lentils. I realize that many people do not share my feelings, but I think that’s because there are a few consistent ways cooks fail in making lentil soup:
- The broth is watery and flavorless.
- The lentils and accompany vegetables are overcooked, mushy and tasteless.
- Spices have not been added in a suitable amount.
I have seen these problems over and over and over again, and my poor friend made the same mistakes. The next day, I made my own batch. And it was pretty much perfect, definitely worth selling your birthright for a bowl or two.
But afterward I felt kind of bad, because as much as I enjoyed my tasty batch of soup, the process was tainted with the knowledge that I was in part motivated by the desire to upstage my friend and prove my superiority in the kitchen. I have often thought of cooking as something that tempers my naturally competitive, perfectionist tendencies, as things often do not work out the way I would like and there is nothing I can do but deal with the failure. However, in this case it turned out quite opposite, as this soup fed not just my body but also my pride. And pride is something better left to starve.
- 1 c. brown lentils
- 2 c. water
- 2 med. onions, cut in quarters and sliced
- 2-3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. cumin
- 1 tsp. coriander (dried)
- ½ tsp. fennel
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 hot peppers, diced very, very small
- 1 med. carrots, diced (about ½ c.)
- 1 med. zucchini, diced (about ½ c.)
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 1 med. potato, diced (about ½ c.)
Start with the lentils and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, cover, turn heat to low and simmer until they become crunchy-tender. You should not need to add any water during this stage, but check on it periodically to make sure.
In a large skillet, heat the oil and caramelize the onions. Just before they finish, add the garlic, cumin, coriander and fennel and stir until the scent rises. Remove from heat.
When the lentils are crunchy-tender, add the onions etc. mixture (including the oil) and the rest of the ingredients to the lentils. Stir well and add just enough water to barely cover everything. Bring to a boil again, cover and reduce heat to simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables and lentils are tender and the broth is nice and thick.