Okay. So she ain’t the prettiest bowl to ever grace a table. However, I would largely attribute that to a case of poor food photography skills on my part. She is, in fact, a rather tasty and nutritious staple in our house. This is a meal my mother used to cook regularly for us, particularly in winter when we were a bit poorly as it’s both comforting (as good soup generally is) and rammed with goodness. My mother’s recipe was based on one from the Women’s Weekly Italian cookbook and I believe, originally contains bacon. Being vegetarians, she obviously omitted that ingredient and also piled on the chopped flat leaf parsley – as she is wont to do with many of her dishes.
Over the years, my version of this soup has gone through a number of permutations. I’ve tried the addition of cumin seeds and use of fresh coriander over parsley to grant it a more Middle Eastern character, although I wasn’t overly keen on this. More recently, I’ve opted for fresh basil, a slurp of extra virgin and a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar – this, I like and brings it back to its Italian heritage. Moving on to another part of the mediterranean, I have now started adding sweet smoked paprika which gives it an unctuous, Spanish flavour, with the illusion of chorizo – without the meat, of course. The upshot then is it’s a pretty versatile recipe which lends itself to experimentation.
So in the spirit of ‘meat free May’, I thus invite you to try you own version of – for lack of a more eloquent title – Lentil Soup. (Please note, all ingredients are given in rough measurements as I only ever do things by eye and then taste as I go.) For babies and small children, I also use this recipe (reducing the seasoning), adding some orzo or stellini pasta as well.
Knob of butter
Glug of olive oil
1 onion – diced
1-2 carrots – diced
2-3 celery stalks – diced
1-2 cups green lentils
2 or so teaspoons smoked sweet paprika
1 x tin tomatoes
500ml vegetable stock
Salt, pepper, chili flakes to taste
Splash of red wine/balsamic vinegar
1-2 tablespoons chopped basil (or parsley – I also like to use a small amount of dill and tarragon)
Tablespoon of grated pecorino or parmasan
Heat oil and butter in a pot, then add onions. Cook gently until slightly translucent, then add chopped carrots and then celery, a good pinch of salt, paprika and the chili flakes (I like mine quite hot, so a good pinch). Cook for a couple of minutes until nicely coated in the oils and add the lentils – cook one minute or so. Add tin tomatoes and passata, stir for a couple of minutes then add the stock. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to a nice simmer. Cook until lentils are al dente (at a guess, maybe half an hour or so). Taste – add salt if necessary, a nice grind of black pepper and a splash of vinegar. Serve into bowls and then splash on top some extra virgin oil, fresh chopped herbs and grated cheese.
Happy meat-free eating!