Lentils are a frugal cook’s friend, packing a lot of nutritional bang (dietary fiber, folate, B1 and protein) for not a whole lot of bucks – and unlike their cousins the dried bean, they provide all of that bang without requiring long soak and cook times.
You can actually make it from bag of dried lentils to spooning up your soup in well under an hour, and sometimes as fast as thirty minutes.
This was a thrown-together recipe, made up of things I happened to have on hand – it turned out really well, is a healthy sort of meal, makes plenty and freezes well, and for bonus points is extremely inexpensive to make. Especially if the vegetables are coming out of your backyard, which is of course a little on the “advanced” side but was pretty awesome for me this weekend when a trip to the supermarket might as well have been a journey to the moon.
ANYWAY. You’ll need:
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium carrots, finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (more or less to taste)
2 cups lentils, picked over to remove rocks and misshapen lentils and rinsed until the water runs clear
1 small can tomato paste, about a quarter cup (or, a regular 14-1/2 ounce can of cut up tomatoes) (or, about six whole fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped)
6-8 cups water (you could also use vegetable or chicken stock)
Generous Dash of thick hot sauce if desired (I used Pepper Plant)
Salt to taste (ended up being about a teaspoon of sea salt, which is a bit “saltier” than plain table salt)
Warm up the oil and sauté the vegetables for a few minutes; the onions should be getting translucent and the house should be filling with a savory scent. Add the spices and sauté them around for a few minutes; this should bring everybody in the house into the kitchen to find out what you’re up to, and is a good time to remind anybody of chores they may have forgotten but could probably get done in time to have a snack when the soup is ready, hint-hint.
Add the tomato paste, lentils and water – the water should fully cover the lentils by a good two inches, so if you need more don’t hesitate to add it. Bring this to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and let it go uncovered for about half an hour, stirring occasionally.
Give it a taste and adjust the seasonings; the lentils may need a little longer (another ten to fifteen minutes is usually about it), but probably not. You can run it through a blender if you want it super-thick and rich, give it an extra-vigorous stirring to make it “kinda” thick and rich, or leave it as it is. I kind of like leaving the lentils whole, but it’s also good in “puree” form.
It’s also really good with some gently toasted homemade bread to dip in it. If, you know, you’re able to chew such a thing. (Seriously, the husband’s pliers are starting to look a lot less scary at this point…I am exceedingly weary of having a toothache at this point…)
I like to add a big old dollop of Pepper Plant hot sauce to it at this point, which gives a lot of extra flavor and kind of puts a floor under the flavorings. (I use that stuff in just about everything. It has a great flavor to it, not too spicy but not bland either, and it has a way of melding with everything from meatloaf to soup.) (Heavy ‘bell pepper’ overtones, too. Not a bell pepper anywhere on the label, but I’d swear they must be in there somewhere…maybe under “spices”? Or can jalapenos imitate bells when in sauce form? Inquiring minds want to know, people…)
(Possibly because inquiring minds are hoping to make their own homemade hot sauce with their own homegrown ingredients this year, because inquiring minds really don’t know when to give up and say, “Ya know, you’re never going to beat this store-bought sauce so why bother blistering your eyeballs cutting up jalapenos trying?”)
(‘Course, inquiring minds would also like to make a version that is perhaps just a little less spicy but still very flavorful, so that the delicate Denizen tongues don’t spit it clear across the room if the hand attached to the inquiring mind in question maybe got a little enthusiastic while shaking the sauce into the stew.)
(Inquiring minds are actually really looking forward to “canning season” this year – inquiring minds have got a lot of ideas, and one of them rhymes with “ridiculous amounts of spicy zucchini relish” because ohmyGAWD, is that stuff good on everything including sandwiches and anywhere else you might consider using mustard.)
(It’s so good it’s one of the very few things I would consider hiring out a professional-grade kitchen to make a huge-big whack of it so I could sell it at the farmer’s market…it’s that good…)
(And zucchini bushes are that prolific…)
(Oh my Lord, are they ever prolific, those zucchini bushes…)