Hearty, rich—and perfect for cooler weather
Today is autumnal equinox, the first day of fall in the US. For many of us, that means cooler weather is on its way (if it hasn’t arrived already).
So goodbye summer—it’s time for heartier fare. And if you need to warm up on a chilly day, there’s nothing better than soup. I particularly like ones that feature dried legumes or pulses.
Like this great Lentil and Tomato Soup. You could serve this in small portions as a starter, but it cries out to be a meal in a bowl. Maybe pair it with some of that wonderful Beer Bread we posted about last week. Add small salad if you’re particularly hungry. And of course include a nice glass of wine (or a bottle of beer).
Recipe: Lentil and Tomato Soup
I like to use ordinary brown lentils in this soup, although you could substitute other varieties. Cooking time may be a few minutes shorter or longer, depending on the type of lentils you choose. But no big deal. Lentils cook in a short time anyway (typically 30 to 40 minutes for brown lentils). So this soup is quick to make.
If you still have ripe tomatoes from your home vegetable garden, you can use them in this soup. But canned tomatoes work quite well, and are more convenient for most of us.
Thyme (fresh or dried) is delicious in this soup. And I usually add another herb too—fresh rosemary, in this case. (Avoid dried rosemary, which is flavor-challenged). Fresh basil would be great as well.
This recipe takes about 15 minutes of prep time, plus another 40 or so minutes of simmering time. So you’ll have soup on the table in under an hour.
The recipe as written yields a lot—about 4 quarts. So unless you’re feeding a crowd, you’ll have leftovers (although it’s easy to cut the recipe in half).
This soup freezes quite well, so I always portion out leftovers into air-tight quart containers (a size that’s enough for 2 very hearty servings, or 3 less hearty ones) and freeze them. Frozen, this soup keeps well for up to 6 months.
- 1 pound dried lentils
- 2 medium onions (I use 1 red onion because I like the color, and 1 yellow onion because I like the flavor)
- 2 celery ribs
- 2 - 3 carrots
- ~5 garlic cloves (or to taste)
- ~2 tablespoons olive oil (“pure” olive oil, the cheap stuff)
- ~1 teaspoon salt (you’ll be adding more later)
- 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (see Notes for substituting fresh tomatoes)
- 10 cups water
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme or 1 to 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves (you can skip the rosemary, but it adds a lot of flavor)
- additional salt to taste (usually about 1 teaspoon, but use less rather than more; you can adjust later)
- black pepper to taste (usually a dozen grinds or so; but again, you can adjust later)
- 1 cup small-sized soup-appropriate pasta (I like ditalini, but any small shape will work)
- 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated, for garnish (optional; omit if you want to keep this soup vegan)
- a few short sprigs of rosemary leaves, for garnish (optional)
- Pick through the lentils and remove any tiny stones or clumps of dirt that might be in the package. Place the lentils in a large bowl, add water, and allow them to soak as you proceed with the rest of the recipe.
- Peel the onions and mince (I like cubes of ¼ inch or a bit larger). You may also want to reserve a bit of red onion, if using, for garnish.
- Wash and peel the celery, and mince into cubes of about ¼ inch. Do the same for the carrots.
- Peel the garlic and mince fine, or slice (I like bigger chunks of garlic in my soup, so I often slice it.)
- Put a 6-quart (or larger) pot on the stove top, and turn burner to medium. Add olive oil when the pot is warm. When the olive oil is hot (it shimmers—this takes a few seconds) add the chopped onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. Add salt to season the vegetables, and sauté until the vegetables are soft but not browned (about 5 minutes).
- When the vegetables are soft, add the red pepper flakes (if using) and sauté for about 15 seconds. Add the tomatoes, and sauté for a minute or two (you don’t need to be exact about the timing of this step).
- While the tomatoes are sautéing, drain the lentils. Add them to the pot. Add 10 cups of water, along with the thyme and rosemary leaves. Bring to a simmer and add salt and pepper to taste. Set a timer for 30 minutes.
- At the 30-minute mark, test the lentils—they should just be getting soft and almost done. Add additional water if necessary so the soup is as liquidy as you like (the pasta will absorb some water). Add the pasta, stir to make sure it doesn’t settle on the bottom, and set a timer for 10 minutes. Grate the Parmesan cheese if you’re using it for garnish.
- When the timer goes off, taste the soup and adjust seasoning if necessary. Check to make sure the lentils are done (they should be; if not, simmer for another few minutes until they’re totally soft). Serve with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese and/or a sprig of rosemary for garnish. Or garnish with a few diced red onion pieces.
- It’s probably easiest to make this soup with canned tomatoes, and throughout much of the year that’s your only real choice anyway. But if you have fresh, ripe tomatoes available, they’re great in this soup. You’ll need about 5 large (or 10 plum-sized) tomatoes, peeled. The easiest way to peel them is by blanching first in hot water. Just pop each tomato into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, then remove with tongs. The skin should peel off easily. Place the peeled tomatoes in a bowl of ice water to cool, then dice them (you can also deseed the tomatoes at this time if you want; I usually just leave the seeds in, though some people think they add bitterness).
- Not everyone has access to fresh rosemary, so you can skip that. But it has wonderful flavor and will grow on your windowsill during the winter, so you might consider buying a plant.
- If you’re using fresh basil in this recipe, I’d add it in Step 8 when you add the pasta. If you cook basil too long, much of its perfume dissipates.
- Ditalini is great in soups, but any small pasta shape (like orzo, or even elbow macaroni) will work.
- Or you could substitute rice. In that case, I’d cook the rice separately—it absorbs a lot of liquid, and takes longer to cook than pasta.
- BTW, if you make this soup ahead, stop at Step 8. Then when you reheat the soup, add the pasta and continue with the recipe. The pasta tends to expand over time, so if you prepare the soup with the pasta and the soup sits in the refrigerator, the pasta will absorb a lot of liquid.
- Grated Parmesan cheese makes a flavorful garnish (though none of the pictures accompanying this post show it). For looks, it’s hard to beat a small sprig of rosemary or a sprinkling of raw, diced red onion. You could also drizzle on a bit of extra virgin olive oil. You won’t see it, but you’ll sure taste it.
“Soup, I love you!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, spoon in the air.
“Agreed,” I said between mouthfuls.
“One of my favorites is that wonderful Tuscan Bean and Pasta Soup,” added Mrs K R. “That has rosemary too.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a soup I didn’t like,” I confessed, taking a bite of Beer Bread. “Or a Chili either, for that matter.”
“Yeah, your Sweet Potato Chili is magic,” said Mrs K R, a wistful look in her eye. “We need to do chili again, soon!”
“Next week for sure,” I promised. “Remember, we’re having friends over for Chili Night! I’ll be whipping up a new chili in their honor.”
“Excelente!” said Mrs K R.
“And I ordered us a pound of dried New Mexico Hatch chili powder,” I added. “That should last us for the year.”
“Well, just barely,” said Mrs K R, scraping the bottom of her bowl. “I’m so glad fall is finally here.”
I’ll slurp to that.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Tuscan Bean and Pasta Soup
Easy Lentil Soup
Sweet Potato Chili
Or check out the index for more recipes