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