Lentil Soup with Vegetables, a hearty meatless treat
A satisfying dish, originally from the Middle East, lentil soup is made from one of the earliest cultivated plants in the world. Such a dish shows up in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, and allowed Jacob to wrest away the patrimony of his father, Isaac and his grandfather, Abraham, from his hungry older brother Esau. The recipe here is less auspicious, but very tasty nonetheless.
1 pound dry tan or green lentils
1 large bay leaf
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/4 of a red bell pepper, diced (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced (or 1/4 cup canned crushed tomato)
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 (2-inch) sprig fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dry oregano)
3/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar for serving
A little minced parsley for serving, optional
Pick over and rinse lentils. In an uncovered pot bring them to a boil in water above the level of the lentils, then immediately drain (this eliminates the “muddy” flavor of American lentils and does not appreciably reduce the protein value of the soup).
Add water to cover the lentils by about 3 inches. Bring them back to a boil. Skim off any foam. Add bay leaf and simmer until lentils are tender, about 25-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, finely dice onion, carrots, celery, and bell pepper if used, and mince garlic. Separately dice the tomatoes if using fresh, and set aside. Fry all except the tomato gently in olive oil until onion becomes limp and translucent. Then stir in the diced or crushed tomato and fry for one more minute. Add fried vegetables to the simmering lentils, along with the rosemary or oregano, cinnamon, pepper, and cayenne. Stir from time to time until lentils are very tender and start to break up (10-20 minutes), skimming off any foam that collects. Add a little water if necessary to keep mixture from becoming thick. Add salt, then more as necessary. Remove from heat. Check salt again 5-10 minutes after finishing cooking.
The soup is best if made ahead and stored before serving. To serve: reheat, taste and add salt if needed. Just before serving, stir in lemon juice or vinegar. When serving, drizzle the soup with some olive oil and if desired sprinkle on a little minced parsley.