Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mushroom-Red Lentil Soup

Dependability is a noble trait, one that should be appreciated and honored. While it's wonderful when demonstrated in human form, meal dependability should not be underrated.

Translation: it's soup again!

A super busy month, holiday hosting, a steady drizzle, memories of a great lentil soup a friend made for us years ago while we were living in The Netherlands, and a heap of beautiful mushrooms all conspired in the making of this soup.

These things... and a very dependable cast-iron pot that quite likes her role as a busy girl.

It's a hearty little soup, satisfyingly rich in earthy, meaty mushrooms and bits of savory onion. And, yes, kale (again). The kale in our fridge has, I believe, become quite a brazen little thing; one that has become a bit heady in her consistent abundance compared to other veggies sharing the same real estate... pushing her way into most any coupling of ingredients that even remotely look her way. Thankfully she plays well.

This soup features red lentils which, unlike their brethren in the family of lentils, break down quite a bit while cooking. As such, they contribute to making a good, thick broth base; one with a wonderful hearth-side heartiness. It's a great soup to serve as a quick, weeknight meal, along with a side salad or slice of fresh bread; as a starter soup (simple, yet well structured); paired with sandwiches for lunch; or, as it thickens a bit the next day... I think it would be great as a base to some seared scallops.

Either way, it's a dependable dish to turn to during December's dizzying days...

Mushroom-Red Lentil Soup
makes approximately 6 cups

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 2 cups)
1 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed, caps diced (or mix of flavorful mushrooms)
2 to 3 large stalks curly kale, center ribs removed, chopped
1 cup red lentils
1 32-ounce carton vegetable stock (or no-chicken broth)
water, as needed
1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar (or to taste)
kosher salt and ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until just translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and continue to cook until mushrooms are soft, aromatic and slightly golden, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add kale and sauté until wilted, about 1 minute. Season veggies with salt and pepper, to taste. Add lentils and stock. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer soup for approximately 20 to 30 minutes, until lentils have softened and broken down some to thicken soup. Depending on desired thickness, add a cup or more of water to soup to thin. Add in red-wine vinegar and additional salt and pepper, all to taste.

Other thoughts...
Consider adding a little minced garlic (just before adding kale); some cooked barley or short-grain brown rice (for additional heartiness); other veggies, like carrot and zucchini; or make soup on the thicker side (with or without the kale) and serve it as a base to some seared scallops. You can even purée it, if desired. I have done this, sans the kale, and it works well.

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