Lentil soup makes such an easy and economical dinner. It’s also a tremendous time-saver. Cooked lentils will keep in the refrigerator 4 to 5 days and can be frozen up to 6 months. When I want leftovers, I simply double the recipe.
This basic lentil soup is delicious, but you can bump up the flavor by adding a hambone, chopped ham, or cooked sausages. Add parsley, cilantro, or thyme to the mixture. The basic recipe can also be altered to make a number of different dishes. For a dip, cut the amount of liquid in half and process the cooked lentils in a blender or food processor. Serve with corn chips or toast points. To make a salad, cook the lentils in half the liquid, then drain the excess liquid and toss them with chopped raw vegetables and salad dressing. Serve chilled.
Whatever the variation, don’t forget: acidic ingredients such as lemon juice, tomatoes, and vinegar will slow the cooking process of lentils (as does salt) and therefore must be added after the lentils have become tender.
Saute carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in hot olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Sort and remove any debris from lentils; rinse under cold running water. Add lentils and broth to vegetable mixture; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes, or until lentils are tender. (If you use red lentils, reduce cooking time to 5 minutes, or cook just until lentils are tender.) Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with lemon wedges and celery leaves.
The lentil, a cousin of the bean, is part of the legume family. Like beans, lentils are high in nutrients, fiber, complex carbohydrates, and folic acid.
Lentils come in several varieties. The French or European lentil, which is slightly larger, is sold with the seed coat on and has a grayish-brown exterior and a creamy-yellow interior. These are commonly sold in supermarkets. The reddish-orange Egyptian lentil is smaller, rounder, and has no seed coat; therefore, these cook in less time and add color as well as nutrition. Red lentils are often found in gourmet, Middle Eastern, or East Indian markets.
Lentils should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Do not store in the refrigerator.