Lentil soup is a standard lunch staple in many a kitchen. Whether it is from a tin, or lovingly crafted from gathered produce and a sweeping armful of warming spices, lentil soup is a giver. Hearty, comforting, homey, exotic, simple, nourishing, and ambrosial – lentil soup in its various forms ticks a lot of delicious boxes. And although tinned and pouch versions can taste pretty good, homemade has a vibrancy that bought can’t hope to match. (Although – top tip – adding a squoosh of lemon to tinned soups really helps.)
When you make the time to prepare a big pot of soup, it rewards you with days of instant, nutritious, sustaining meals. Not only that, it keeps us from damaging our waistlines and wallets with bought sandwiches eaten on the hoof – or sit-down, 2-courses-for-a-tenner lunches. And the tempting wine list…
Lentil, to my mind at least, is one of the easiest – and most adaptable – of soups. This is why.
After sauteeing some onions or leeks as a base, other than lentils the direction lentil soup takes is pretty much up to you. Anything from a homey Scottish lentil soup with its turnip, carrots and optional barley, to something like Richa Hingle’s flavour-layered dal soup, featuring seven spices and two types of lentils. There are, I imagine, as many version of lentil soup as there are people eating it.
Mostly lentil soup is made with red lentils, the colour ranging from orange (like those I used) to actual red. These are definitely a great choice for soup as they fall apart quickly and tenderly.
I like to keep a stock of various lentils for various dishes. Small, glossy green or mottled greeny-brown lentils such as Puy or lentilles de Puy, French or Canadian lentils are robust and quite peppery and suited to dishes where you want the firm texture intact. These don’t tend to be used in soups and dals, but rather in salads (try my recipe for halloumi, pepper, lentil and beetroot salad), and warm with sausages, prawns and roasted vegetables. Lentils used mainly in Indian sub-continental cooking are another area to explore, with urad (black gram) being a favourite of mine for making dal. Note to self: post my dal recipe soon. 🙂 Here’s a great list of the types of lentils used in Indian cookery.
Whatever lentils you choose know that they’re all high in fibre, folate and iron, low in calories, are low-fat, a good source of vegetarian protein, quick and easy to cook, ridiculously cheap, satiating, versatile and, – most of all – delicious.
Today’s lentil soup was actually inspired by a pouch of soup I bought at Lidl. I have a mooch around there every few weeks, and rake through the weekly offers, picking up thermal socks, hiking boots and maybe a new nylon clothesline (I do like to treat myself!) along with my basic shopping. I usually ignore the food offers unless it is fresh stuff, but one week, Turkish week I think, I spotted pouches of soup, and as I stupidly hadn’t eaten before I came out, I grabbed some, clocked the ingredients and scurried home to eat it. Man oh man it was good! I ate the whole two-serving size. 🙂
It was awhile before I attempted to make my own version, but I’m so glad that I did. I began with a minimal amount of dried mint (don’t use fresh, it is a completely different taste to dried) as I didn’t want a “toothpastey” soup, but I quickly upped it to 2 teaspoons as this was the flavour that had me wishing I had bought two pouches of soup. It is still subtle, so much so that others mightn’t be able to identify it as mint, but please do use it. The spinach puree and dinky pitta croutons are optional; and use dairy yogurt or buttermilk instead of coconut yogurt if you like.
The whole pot of silky gold thrums with haunting flavour and natural goodness – however you choose to dress it.
Links to other lentil recipes on Food To Glow can be found here.
Lentil Soup with Mint and Caraway
A nourishing, easy and slightly unusual version of comfort food staple, lentil soup. Top with pureed spinach and caraway pitta croutons for a dinner party version. Naturally vegan and perfect for lunch. Add optional grains to this Mediterranean diet soup while it cooks for a main meal with staying power.
2 tbsp olive oil + 2 tsp for sauteeing spinach and making croutons (optional)
2 medium onions, chopped or 2 leeks, white part chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 tbsp coriander seed, toasted and finely ground
1 tsp caraway seeds, toasted and finely ground + extra for optional croutons
3 cloves, garlic, chopped
2 & 1/2 tsp dried crushed mint
1/2 tsp ground turmeric or 1 tsp grated fresh turmeric
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
260g (1 & 1/2 cups) red/orange lentils (you could also use yellow split peas; add another 20 minutes cooking time)
1.4 litres (6 cups) low-salt vegetable stock, more to thin for a thinner soup if you wish
Juice of one lemon
200g spinach or chard (ribs removed), washed – optional
1 wholemeal pitta bread, split along its seam and torn/cut into small pieces – optional
1. Gently heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and saute slowly until translucent – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two. Now Aadd all ingredients down to the broth and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer, cover and let cook for 30 minutes.
2. (optional) While the soup is cooking, make the croutons by tossing the pitta pieces in 1 tsp of the olive oil, laying on a baking sheet, and sprinkling with caraway seeds. Bake at 160C fan/180C/350F for 10-12 minutes. Remove the croutons from the oven and allow to cool and crisp up. Thicker pittas may need a bit more time in the oven. Leftover croutons keep for a week in a lidded container.
3. (optional) For the spinach, heat the remaining oil in a skillet/saute pan and add the damp spinach, seasoning with a little salt if you wish. Turn over in the oil with a pair of tongs or two skillet-safe spoons. Transfer to a blending jug, add a little of the lemon juice (about 1 tsp) and use a hand blender to make a silky green sauce. Set aside.
4. Blend the soup however you wish. I use my Optimum 9400 Froothie as always, but as this is a soup, any blender, blender stick thingy or food processor will do. Process to a smooth texture or pulse for some satisfying “bits” to chew on. Indeed, if you don’t care whether or not it is smooth, just use a potato masher if you lack the others. Add the lemon juice and taste for seasoning, adjusting as you see fit.
Serve with the croutons and a generous swirl each of of yogurt and spinach puree. This soup freezes well but will separate a bit on defrosting – just stir it well when reheating.
Need it even more filling? Add bulgur wheat and 250 mls more stock for an extra hearty meal – same timing.
Lower fat required? Skip the oil and bung all in the pot. Wilt the spinach without the oil.
Can’t be bothered making the spinach puree? Add the raw spinach straight into the soup towards the end of cooking. Here’s what it looks like blended. (below)
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Thank you to Wholesomeonline.co.uk for the red lentils and vegetable stock powder.
**PS: I use my Optimum 9400 Froothie power blender daily for work and home. If you want to make your own flours, nut butters, power balls, smoothies, cocktails, super smooth sauces, purees and soups like this (and loads more), use my ambassador link to get £100 off the price. Includes a 30 day money back guarantee.**