Sunday, April 29, 2012

Vegan Lentil Soup

the leeks disintegrate after cooking for a while....
I love beans, but for a while, I just couldn't find it in myself to cook and eat lentils. Every time I cooked them, they just seemed too dry, gritty and just generally unpleasant in texture. After trying some canned vegan lentil soup from Trader Joe's and realizing that I could like lentils, I decided I needed to figure out how to make lentils work. So far, I've made this lentil soup a few times and none of it has gone to waste. I like that lentils don't require the soaking of dried beans, which makes this a more spontaneous meal & still keeps it pretty cheap (dried pulses are usually cheaper than pre-cooked canned...) They also have the bonus of less associated trash and no potential chemicals leaching from the can lining. This recipe was inspired by the ingredient list on the Trade Joe's soup, but I generally like more veggies in mine. The recipe is super flexible and you can add, remove and replace items according to what you have on hand or don't like.

Vegan Lentil Soup (~4 meal sized servings); ~2-3 hours

1 cup dry black lentils (or whatever kind you have)
3 carrots
3 stalks of celery
a few mushrooms
1 small onion
1 leek (or, if you have no leeks, use 1 large onion instead of a small one)
2 medium tomatoes (or substitute sun dried tomatoes or tomato paste)
frozen or fresh chopped spinach
tablespoon olive oil
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper
garlic/garlic powder
other desired spices like: thyme, paprika, cayanne, basil, rosemary
garnishes (I used green onions and pan-toasted croutons from stale whole wheat bread)

 Warm oil in a soup pot. As it is warming, begin chopping onion and leek. Once warm, add the onion and leek to the pot. Continue chopping items in this order, adding & stirring them in the pot as you go: carrot, celery, mushroom, tomato. Finally, dump in the lentils. Add at least 5 cups of filtered water & the bay leaf, cover and allow the pot to simmer for at least 1.5 hours. Keep stirring it every 10-15 min, making sure there is still enough liquid and adding more as necessary.

Once it simmers for 1.5 hours, check the lentils for doneness. I like them kinda mushy, so I usually keep on cooking for a while, but I'll start adding in spices at this time to desired taste. If you are adding fresh garlic, I'd recommend cooking it just until fragrant in a pan in a little oil (I've learned a key to cooking garlic is to not overcook it!) and adding it to the soup. Keep adjusting the water according to desired consistency. This is also when I usually add the spinach -add as much as you want. Keep monitoring the taste and liquid amount until things taste and smell good to you!

Remove bay leaf. If you used sundried tomatoes that couldn't be cut before adding to the soup, I fish them out now, chop them and add them back to the soup. Serve with croutons, crusty bread, green onion, cheese (vegan or not) & whatever else you want. This makes a filling meal on it's own!
a batch of soup without leeks and with more tomatoes and paprika

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