Thursday, January 27, 2011

Veggie Might: French-Style Lentil Soup with Spinach

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian.

A common misconception about vegetarians and vegans is that we only eat bland, boring lentil dishes that taste like paste/cardboard. Oh contraire! Lentils are freakin’ awesome, and you need not employ fancy tricks to make them delicious.

How apropos that, this week, I turn to Mark Bittman to illustrate this fact. (Mr. B, I’m going to miss The Minimalist ever so.)

Generally, my favorite way to eat lentils is all dal-ed up, Indian-style. But I’ll take them any way really: in a loaf, a patty, or in a soup with just a few simple flavors, like onions, salt, and pepper.

The thing is, as comfortable as I am around beans and lentils, wildly tossing together legumes with vegetables, grains, and spices, I’m fairly stymied by soup. I just can’t get a handle on the proportions and almost always turn to recipes. Sure enough, darling Mark Bittman and his stalwart How to Cook Everything Vegetarian saw into my heart and knew what it wanted before I did: the French variation of his Classic Lentil Soup.

It provided a use for the deep greenish-grey-colored French lentils (also known as lentils du Puy if they actually come from France) I’ve been hoarding, as well as a template for soup in general.

Even with the dicing, during which I relished using my newly sharpened knife, the soup came together in under an hour. Once the carrot and celery are diced, almost everything goes in the pot to start cooking; then the onion and garlic get their turn at the blade—a huge time saver. Plus, if you use frozen spinach, like I did, you save yourself additional washing and washing and chopping steps.

Because the recipe uses everyday ingredients—green or brown lentils can be easily subbed for Frenchies—it’s beyond cheap. At less than $3.50 for the whole pot, you get several meals for the cost of a cafe au lait—and it’s just as warm and comforting on a cold winter afternoon. The lentils, carrots, and celery stick to your ribs, while a hint of lemon juice gives a refreshing zing.

MB suggests spinach and lemon juice if sorrel is unavailable, which is the case here in the depths of Northeastern winter. Sorrel, if you’ve never tried it, is a delicate leafy green with a pungent, lemony flavor. Come spring, I’ll be giving that version a try for sure.

Now, let us lift high our spoons in praise of the lovely lentil and Mark Bittman’s deliciously simple soup. À votre santé!


If you dig this recipe, point your [snow] shovel toward:

French-Style Lentil Soup with Spinach
Serves 4 to 6
Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

1 cup French lentils
1 medium carrot, 1/2” dice
1 rib celery, 1/2” dice
1 bay leaf
6 cups vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons nonhydrogenated vegan butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic , minced
1 1/2 cups spinach, frozen (or 1/4 pound spinach, fresh)
1 lemon, juiced

1) Combine lentils, bay leaf, carrot, celery, stock, and salt and pepper in a large sauce pan or medium stock pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until lentils are tender.

2) Chop onions and garlic. In a medium skillet, cook onions in vegan butter for 5 minutes or until soft. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. If using fresh spinach, stir into onion and garlic mixture until wilted. Add to soup. If using frozen spinach, skip wilting step and add spinach to soup separately from onion and garlic mixture.

3) Remove soup from heat when lentils are tender and squeeze in lemon juice.

4) Serve with crusty bread and a green salad or a baked sweet potato for a light lunch. So simple, so delicious, so je ne sai pas...perfectly lentil.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
Four servings: 249.6 calories, 3g fat, 18.5g fiber, 10g protein, $.86
Six servings: 166.4 calories, 2g fat, 12.3g fiber, 15g protein, $.57

1 cup French lentils: 678 calories, 2g fat, 59g fiber, 50g protein, $0.70
1 medium carrot: 25 calories, 0g fat, 2g fiber, 1g protein, $0.16
1 rib celery: 6 calories, 0g fat, 1g fiber, 0g protein, $0.08
1 bay leaf: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $0.02
6 cups vegetable stock: 120 calories, 0.6g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $1.14
salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $0.02
pepper: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $0.02
2 teaspoons nonhydrogenated vegan butter: 66 calories, 7.3g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.08
1 onion: 20 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.25
1 clove garlic: 4 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.01
1 1/2 cups spinach, frozen: 67.5 calories, 1.5g fat, 7.5g fiber, 9g protein, $0.75
1 lemon, juiced: 12 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.20
TOTALS: 998.5 calories, 11.4g fat, 74g fiber, 60g protein, $3.43
PER SERVING (TOTALS/4): 249.6 calories, 3g fat, 18.5g fiber, 10g protein, $.86
PER SERVING (TOTALS/6): 166.4 calories, 2g fat, 12.3g fiber, 15g protein, $.57

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alexis said...

My family is italian, and we love lentils - Lentil soup with spaghetti topped with pecorino romano is actually my fav meal on earth, and when i'd come home from college, my mom would meet me at the airport with a thermos of the stuff.
Mom and I dont always use spinach, but do sometimes throw in a box of the frozen stuff at the end. Our recipe is similar
a whole head of garlic in olive oil, 3-4 carrots, broken in halves or thirds, lentils, and a couple of tomatoes squished into the pot (a ladle or two of leftover sunday gravy also works), lots of salt and black pepper, a bag of lentils, and plenty of water - a little basil to finish and your set! At the end you can throw in the box of spinach, you can throw in broken spaghetti, and dont forget the good cheese!

alexis said...

(had to add this)
and to avoid ODing on lentils, ive learned to make a pea soup recipe, blending a little of my indian co-worker's recipe with my cousin's traditional.
chopped onion and grated carrot in a little oil or butter, with a whole habanero sliced to vent in the middle and a bay leaf, when fragrant add a little whisper of cumin and tumeric, 4-6 cloves garlic, the peas, 1 can chicken broth, lots of water, s&p and let'er rip, when its about done i throw in the box of spinach, a handful of cilantro, and grate either a little ginger or one last garlic clove to wake it up - finish with about a tblsp of butter to make it rich and its oh so good

Kristi Wachter said...

Wow - that sounds excellent.

... Did you swap the protein counts, by chance?

Jeanie said...

I hear tomorrow's lunch calling. Thanks.

Sally said...

I have 3 basic templates for soup -- all committed to memory now. Two are from Pam Anderson -- one is in How to Cook Without A Book and the other is a all-vegetable variation that appeared in Fine Cooking:

The third is for bean-based soups and comes from a recipe for creamy slow-cooker beans from Kitchen Parade ( I just add the aromatic vegetables at the beginning and any grains, pasta and quicker-cooking vegetables towards the end. I often use olive oil in this instead of butter or bacon fat (but I've used those, too).

I think my favorite is some kind of beans and greens. I'm thinking of making a Portuguese beans and greens maybe with some sausage very soon.

Caitlin said...

I made this today sans the spinach (since I used all of mine in pasta a couple of days ago) and it is excellent! I served it up with naan and it was the perfect meal for a cold day.

I didn't have any vegetable stock so I used a combination of chicken stock and broth, but I completely forgot to make up for that fact by not adding salt so mine was a little salty. The combination of flavors was so good, I am looking forward to having this for lunch tomorrow!

Thank you for these vegetarian recipes. There's a myth that vegetarian foods are bland, but this column, and website in general, help me disprove that, especially to my husband! :)

Arthur said...

I just bought some lentils because they were cheap and high in fiber, but I wasn't sure how to cook them. Thanks for the recipe. Will come in very handy tommorow night since a winter storm is blowing in.

Squiffy's Delicious Carrot Recipes said...

Sorrel is delicious! But I've never seen it on sale anywhere, although you can find it growing wild if you live in the countryside.

I think it's not as widely eaten as its excellent taste suggests it should be, partly because of the high oxalic acid content ... it can in theory lead to kidney stones if you eat it regularly.

Lady Amalthea said...

This sounds divine! I'm a big fan of lentils as well--cheap, easy and delicious source of vegetarian protein. What's not to love? I'm definitely adding spinach next time I make lentil soup. Here's my version:

Kristin V said...

I have made this soup recipe several times now and I just love it! Thanks for sharing. My husband and I are embarking on a journey to eat less meat and more vegetables so this soup recipe was a perfect addition to my recipe box!

violarulz/ducksandbooks said...

this is my favorite soup! thank you for posting it online, also, I hope you don't mind that I linked to it on my blog :)