Lentil soup is easier to make than most bean soups because you don’t have to soak the lentils beforehand and lentils cook very quickly—in 45 minutes to an hour or even less.
Even though you can make a lentil soup with just a little onion and some broth, I always like to include something smoky such as bacon or ham. If I have it, I also like to add confit of duck. Although I prefer pureed lentil soup, it’s also fine with the lentils left whole.
The most commonly available lentils are the regular brown lentils sold in plastic bags in supermarkets. These are perfectly good, but the next time you get to a fancy food store, buy a bag of tiny de puy lentils from France or the bright orange Indian or Egyptian lentils. Different lentils take different cooking times, so start checking them after 20 minutes—take a nibble; they should be completely soft.
Although most packaged lentils are free of debris, it’s a good idea to pour them out on a baking sheet and check them for pebbles. Remember when cooking lentil soup to stir it every once in a while to prevent sticking and scalding.
Cook the meat in a 4-quart pot over medium heat for about 5 minutes. If you’re using bacon, cook the strips until they just start to turn crisp; if you’re using prosciutto, cook it in
Add the onion, carrot, and celery to the pot and cook over medium heat until the vegetables brown slightly, about 15 minutes.
Add the lentils, bouquet garni, and broth. Simmer until the lentils are tender, 45 minutes to an hour. Discard the bouquet garni and puree the soup through the fine disk of a food mill, blender, or food processor. Strain it through a fine-mesh sieve if you want a finer consistency or add broth or water if you want it thinner.
Swirl the 4 tablespoons butter into the hot soup and add the reserved meat.
In her book The Foods and Wines of Spain, Penelope Casas gives a recipe similar to this one that contains potatoes and a little garlic and is garnished with Spanish blood sausages, morcilla. If you can’t find blood sausages, other sausages such as French saucisse a I’ail or kielbasa could be used to turn this soup into a winter meal.
© 2000 James Peterson. All rights reserved.