Ultimate Lentil Soup

Forget it, I’m going to keep making and posting soup recipes until this stupid weather breaks or I die.  Whichever comes first.

Slow Cooker Revolution is on a roll with what it touts as “Ultimate Lentil Soup.”  I don’t really like lentil soup.  I don’t hate it but it’s not my go-to.  Jeeps loves it though, and he’s been killing himself shoveling snow so I wanted to make it for him.  It didn’t hurt that the recipe called for bacon and mushrooms.

Well, friends, to cut to the chase: this soup is tits.  Unbelievable flavor.  I snuck in a can of black beans toward the end and the country-style texture of beans and lentils rocks.  The mushrooms are killer.  The chard is a treat.  Bacon makes it all sexy.  I stirred some frozen sweet corn into the kids’ bowls to cool it off.  And they ate it. 

As my friend Art said, “This is not your mother’s lentil soup.”

Lentil Soup

Ultimate Not-Your-Mother’s Lentil Soup

  • 2 onions, minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 4-5 slices bacon
  • 3-5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2-3 large portobello mushroom caps, gills removed and cut into 1/2″ pieces (the gills scrape right out with a spoon.  You do this to keep the soup from getting muddy)
  • 1 cup brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 ounces Swiss chard, stemmed and leaves cut 1/2″ thick

Microwave onions, garlic, oil, tomato paste, porcini mushrooms and thyme in bowl, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to slow cooker.

Stir chicken broth, vegetable broth, bacon, carrots, portobello mushrooms, lentils and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Cover and cook on high 5-7 hours or low 9-11 hours, until lentils are tender.

Stir in black beans and chard, cover and cook on high until chard is tender, 20-30 minutes.  Discard bacon and bay leaves.  Serve.

Sicilian Chick Pea Soup

As smartass Frank pointed out, the soup itself is Sicilian, not the chick peas.  Most Italian soups feature cannellini beans but in Sicily, chick peas are the favored legume. The recipe comes from the Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook, Volume 2.  You can make it in 7 hours in the slow cooker, or in 45 minutes on the stove top.  It’s not very attractive, but it’s yum.  It features fennel, garlic, oregano and red pepper.  It also calls for anchovies, which I did not use, and escarole, which I did not have.

Stove Top Version

  • 2 fennel bulbs, cored and chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 8-oz cans chick peas, dried and rinsed
  • 7 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 head escarole, chopped coarse, or 1/2 bag of frozen spinach

Heat olive oil in soup pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add fennel and saute 7-8 minutes.  I found the soup very savory and kept looking for a sweet note.  I think if you really get the fennel caramelized it will bring that sweetness.

Add garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes, saute another 2-3 minutes.

Add chick peas and chicken broth.  Cover and simmer 20-30 minutes.  Add spinach or escarole and cook until wilted, another 15 minutes.

Serve with a glug of olive oil and a big dollop of parmesan cheese

Slow Cooker Version

  • 2 fennel bulbs, cored and chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced
  • 8 oz dried chick peas
  • 7 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 head escarole, chopped coarse, or 1/2 bag of frozen spinach

Microwave fennel, oil, garlic, oregano, anchovies and papper flakes in bowl, stirring occasionally, until fennel is softened, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to slow cooker.  Stir in chick peas and broth.  Cover and cook until chick peas are tender – 10 to 11 hours on low or 7 to 8 hours on high.

Stir in escarole or spinach, cover and cook another 15 minutes.

Serve with olive oil and parmesan.

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Ox-Tail Soup

[Tita] noticed a smell that struck her. A smell that was foreign to this house. John opened the door and stood there with a tray in his hands and a bowlful of ox-tail soup!

Ox-tail soup! She couldn’t believe it. And behind John, in came Chencha, covered in tears. The embrace they exchanged was brief, because they didn’t want the soup to get cold. With the first sip, Nacha appeared there at her side, stroking her hair as she ate, as she had done when she was little and was sick, kissing her forehead over and over. There were all the times with Nacha, the childhood games in the kitchen, the trips to the market, the still-warm tortillas, the colored apricot pits, the Christmas rolls, the smells of boiled milk, bread with cream, chocolate atole, cumin, garlic, onion. As always, throughout her life, with a whiff of onion, the tears began. She cried as she hadn’t cried since the day she was born. How good it was to have a long talk with Nacha. Just like old times, when Nacha was still alive and they had so often made ox-tail soup together. Chencha and Tita laughed reliving those moments, and they cried remembering the steps of the recipe. At last Tita had been able to remember a recipe, once she had remembered the first step, chopping the onion.”

–Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel, 1992 Doubleday, New York

Oxtail is a bony, gelatin-rich meat, which is usually slow-cooked as a stew or braised, and as such, it is a good stock base for a dynamite soup. As with short-ribs, the sections of tail put out a lot of fat, and you’ll need to skim this off during the process.

Nacha’s recipe has 2 ox-tails, onion, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes and string beans. The recipe is within the narrative of the chapter but from what I can tell the tails are cooked on the stove with the onion and garlic, and “a little more water than you normally would, since you are making a soup. A good soup that’s worth something has to be soupy without getting watery.”

I was leaning more toward a barley-vegetable version, and wanted to include red wine and mushrooms to really boost the flavor. I didn’t have any quick-cooking barley but I did have Trader Joe’s 10-minute Farro which I’ve been totally into lately. Farro is composed of the grains of certain wheat species. The exact definition is the subject of much debate. Suffice it to say it is nutty and delish, the 10-minute kind is particularly awesome, and you can read more about Farro here

So after some reconaissance I ended up halving and loosely following a recipe on Epicurious, which offers this little teaser: During hard times, luxury cuts like steaks and chops give way to humbler ones. None are humbler than the oxtail, and all across the country, depression-era cooks made much of it, frequently in soup. Even in these days, when humble cuts have become restaurant menu stars, soup is still a good way to go with oxtails. Simmering them slowly with garlic and vegetables in red wine yields a rich broth and tender, succulent meat, making a lavish feast for us all.

Lavish Oxtail Soup

  • IMG_60411 pound oxtails (4 or 5 3-inch sections), patted dry
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted in 1 cup hot water, water reserved
  • 5 more cups water
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 6-8 carrots, sliced
  • 3-4 ribs celery, sliced
  • 1 scant cup quick-cooking farro or barley
  • Chopped parsley
  • 1 or 2 beef bouillon cubes (just in case)

Heat olive oil in dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season oxtails with salt and pepper and brown on all sides. Remove from pot and set aside.

Add onion, shallot, garlic, and thyme and saute 2-3 minutes. Fish mushrooms out of the warm water and chop fine. You don’t have to…I only do to disguise them. Among the shredded meat, they are not recognizable as mushrooms and then the kids eat them. Ha. So chop or not, but add them to the pot.

Add 1 cup red wine, scraping up bits from bottom of pot with wooden spoon. Put oxtails back into pot, add the 5 cups water, the reserved mushroom water, and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover, and simmer for 3 hours.

Strain broth into a clean put, reserving solids. Put pot into fridge for 2 hours, or the freezer for about 45 minutes so the fat rises and solidifies. Skim off as much as possible and discard. Pour broth (which will be very jelly-like) back into soup pot and heat over medium

Shred the meat off the tailbones and add to pot along with carrots, celery, the reserved onions and mushrooms, and farro. Taste broth and add salt, pepper, or a boullion cube if necessary. Simmer about 20 minutes until carrots are tender. Stir in chopped parsley and some frozen peas if desired, and serve.

Peasant food: it serves a certain purpose.

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Something Out of Nothing

Sometimes…it works.

You remember to set up the coffee the night before, so in the morning all you have to do is press a button.

You bought frozen hash browns during the weekend food shop, and feel smugly virtuous as you serve your children something other than cereal on a school morning.

You remember what day it is and who is going where.  You remembered to write the check, sign the permission slip, sew on the button, buy rinse aid, re-stock toilet paper.

You find a moment to write, to weed, to walk through your gardens.

The laundry is not only folded, but put away.

Things are where they are supposed to be.

You have time.

Your family is relaxed.  Your stomach is calm.

You have game.

It all works.

And from two potatoes, two onions and a bag of frozen corn, you make soup.  You whip up a box of Trader Joe’s Birds’ Nests.  For kicks, you assemble a salsa of halved cherry tomatoes, black beans, cilantro, red onion and more corn.

And everyone eats it.

I love days like these.

Onion Bread (and Split Pea Soup)

With the return of the cold spell, we return to comfort food.  Not only did I break out David Crockpot, but I brought forth the bread machine as well.  If you have one, this onion bread is amazing.  Back when we had our old house on the market, I would play dirty and have a batch of onion bread going at every Open House.  People would step into the kitchen and go into a trance.  “What is that…?”

Try it and see:  as soon as the machine hits the bake cycle, the kitchen fills up.  It’s sweet with brown sugar, flecked with poppy seeds, and packs heat from black pepper.  It’s superb with split pea or lentil soup, toasted with cheese, and any leftovers make amazing croutons to toss into a green salad, or even into a panzanella with cherry tomatoes, onions and beans.

Onion Bread

  • 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 cups white flour
  • 2 tbsp dry milk
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup dried onions
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp black pepper (you might want to start with 1/2 tsp if you’re making this for the first time)
  • 1 tsp poppy seeds (which I think is stingy, I make it more like a tablespoon)
  • 1 1/2 tsp fast-rise yeast or 3 tsp active dry yeast

Measure and add all ingredients to the bread pan in the order listed.  Bake according to machine directions.

Split Pea Soup

Panda just remarked “Ew, it looks like brains.” And ew, she’s right…

This will be prose recipe, as I’m sure everyone has their own methodology for Split Pea Soup.

Once upon a time, there was bacon.  Now there are two purposes to making bacon:  one, to have bacon (duh); and two, to have leftover bacon grease with which to saute greens or provide a base for split pea soup.  If you don’t have any, no big deal, you can saute up some ham or just use olive oil.  But there’s nothing like bacon.  While I’m frying it, I line a small bowl with foil and pour the grease off into there.  When it’s cool I wrap the foil packet in another piece of foil and put it in the freezer.  When I want to use it, I just slice off a chunk with a sharp knife.  Usually I end up slicing off some bits of foil that got smushed in and frozen, but as the fat melts, those are easily picked out with tongs.

Saute onions, garlic, carrots and celery in the bacon fat, then dump that into the crockpot.  Add a bag of dried split peas – I love yellow split pea soup because it’s pretty, but you can’t go wrong with classic green.  12 cups of liquid:  chicken broth, vegetable broth, a mix of broth and water.  A bay leaf.  Cover.  Go away for 6-8 hours.

When the soup is done, some people serve as is, country style.  Others blend the soup to gourmet smoothness.  I have a foot in both camps:  I skim out most of the carrots with a slotted spoon and put them aside, then I blend smooth and stir the carrots back in.  I do this because I’m all about visual appeal, and I like the look of the orange carrots floating in the soup, especially if it’s yellow-split pea.   If I’m making green split-pea and I blend all the veggies in, the carrots turn the soup a really weird color.

Annnd…unfortunately there is no money shot as we packed this up and took it over to some friends for dinner.  It got eaten before I remembered to take a picture.  But it looked something like this (photo credit: SimplyRecipes.com):

Comfort Food

This week I was filled with grief for a former co-worker who lost his only son.  All week Jeeps and I have been upset, questioning the world and its tenuousness, reaffirming each other and the kids, trying to remember what is important.  Redman, especially, got kissed and manhandled a lot this week.

In my sad distraction I found myself all too easily sliding back into not eating.  Seeking comfort as well as inspiration, I re-read Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life and she delivered on both fronts.  Sobbing through the chapters of her beloved father’s death, I arrived at the recipe for “Ed Fretwell Soup.”  This Italian vegetable creation was delivered to the Wizenbergs by Ed and Barbara Fretwell, during the time of Molly’s father’s long decline.

It was full of Swiss chard and carrots and plump beans, hearty and reassuring, one of the best soups I’d ever had.  When the first batch was gone, we called to ask for more, and Ed delivered it on the next day.

It’s one of the best soups I’ve had, too, and funny thing that because it seems like it’s just another minestrone soup recipe, and yet it’s not.  I don’t know what makes it different or so special.  But I made it tonight and ate four bowls of it.  And about eight oatmeal-chocolate-cherry cookies.

The recipe from Homemade Life involves dried beans and their preparation, which involves overnight soaking.  I wanted to make this tonight, right now; I had no dried beans and I tend not to have good luck with them anyway.  This involved rearranging the recipe, plus I added a few other tweaks.  So for the original, click here to go to the January 2005 of Molly’s blog Orangette.  Scroll down to the post called “On industry, indolence, and Italian vegetable soup”.   Or, for crying out loud, buy yourself a copy of the book because it is well worth having.

Here is my sped-up tweaked version.  The original recipe caveats that this makes a lot of soup.  If you don’t have a large enough pot or enough people, Molly suggests halving the recipe.  Which I did here.

Italian Vegetable Soup, based on half of Ed Fretwell Soup

  • 1/2 package of dried porcini mushrooms (not in the original but I had them and was fretting I needed to use them and I figured they wouldn’t hurt.  And oh they did not)
  • 2 large cloves garlic (this was not halved, in fact I used three cloves)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced thin
  • 4 carrots, sliced (I obediently sliced 4, then the peasant in me added another 2)
  • 1 medium zucchini, trimmed, quartered lengthwise and sliced
  • 2 turnips, diced (not in the original recipe but I’d bought a few because I’ve been wanting to try them anyway and this seemed a safe way)
  • 6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/2 small bunch Swiss Chard, stalks discarded and leaves coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 head of cabbage, coarsely chopped (I didn’t have cabbage so I used my entire bunch of Swiss chard, something else I’ve been wanting to try more of)
  • 1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped (that’s from the full recipe but I didn’t have a 14-oz can so I just used the whole thing.
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 can cannelini beans, 1 can red kidney beans, 1 can chick peas – all drained and rinsed together and you will use 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of the mix as you see fit.  Refrigerate the rest for a 3-bean salad.
  • Best-quality olive oil and parmesan cheese for serving.

About 1/2 hour before starting the soup, put the dried mushrooms in a small bowl with 1 1/2 cups of warm water.  Let sit to reconstitute.  Remove the mushrooms and chop.  Strain the mushroom water through a fine sieve or coffee filter and reserve.

In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and turnips.  Saute for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the zucchini and broth, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer.  Add the Swiss chard, tomatoes, sage, and reserved mushroom liquid.

Cover the pot and turn heat low to keep at a simmer for 1 hour.  It will seem there is far too little liquid for all the vegetables in the pot but don’t worry:  the vegetables will give off a good amount of water as they cook.

After an hour, stir in the beans (as much as you like).  Taste to see if it needs salt, I found it didn’t need a speck.  Cover and simmer another 20 minutes.  Stir in the parsley.

Serve, and be comforted, with a hearty glug of good olive oil over the top of the bowl and some parmesan cheese sprinkled about.  It’s not the prettiest soup in the world, but my God it’s good.  And if you’re going to fret, you should Fretwell.

(Sorry)

I served some to Panda and she wrinkled her nose.  “It doesn’t look very good,” I said, “but it tastes really good.”

“If I don’t like it, is there something else?”  she asked in a small voice.  I assured her that there was leftover spaghetti and meatballs to fall back on.  “Well…OK,” she said reluctantly, and took a small spoonful.  She still looked doubtful but she did take the bowl downstairs to the TV room.  Puttering around the kitchen, I kept an ear to the basement stairs and sure enough, up floated that sound so dear to a mother’s heart:  the sound of a spoon repeatedly clinking against the bowl.  Followed soon by footsteps up the stairs and those wonderful words, “Can I have some more?”

Meatballs 3 Ways

Feeling much better.  My doctor and I took care of business and I’m starting to feel the floor under my feet again.  Now I just have to get the meat back on my bones.  And what better way than with meatballs?

I’ll tell you a better way:  pre-cooked meatballs.  Courtesy of Uncle Tony, our representative with Horizon Foods.  These things have to be terrible for you, you just know the sodium content is off the chart.  But once in a while when you have four different people with four different ideas for dinner, meatballs are the common thread.

Case in point, tonight.  I was wanting soup; Panda and Redman wanted yellow rice with peas (which was leftover from another meal); Jeeps pointed out that the bag of kale in the crisper drawer was approaching slimehood.  He was right, it needed to be used.

Now, watch…

One soup pot on the back burner.  Olive oil.  Three carrots scraped and sliced.  A can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed.  Half a pint of grape tomatoes.  Saute all.  Add chicken broth.  Chopped parsley if you have it.  Lower the heat, cover and let it do its thing.

One skillet on the front burner.   Olive oil.  Five big cloves garlic, minced.  Work it.  Add half the bag of kale, toss with tongs.  Cover and let wilt.  Add other half.  Salt and pepper.  Toss.  Cover and let it do its thing.

Another skillet down.  Olive oil.  Half the bag of pre-cooked meatballs.  Brown them.

The stove now looks like this.  Jeeps insisted I take the picture so I could prove I wasn’t putting three different dinners into one post.  As if I would do such a thing.

And now (drum roll), from these three pots and one tupperware from the fridge, I give you dinner:

The kids had meatballs with their yellow rice.

Jeeps constructed yellow rice, kale, and meatballs.

I dropped meatballs and kale into my soup.

Everyone was happy.  And personally, I think mine was best.