Wednesday, December 7, 2011

French Lentil Soup


     The finest lentils in the world come from the Auvergne Region of France.  Grown without fertilizers, the dark green pearls are nourished by the local volcanic soil and picked at the peak of ripeness.  Highly prized by French housewives and dubbed  'poorman's caviar', the government only allows 88 areas to name their lentils, 'Lentilles Verte du Puy AOC'.  When you are buying authentic Du Puy lentils be sure to look for this label on the package.  French lentils are also grown in Italy and North America.  Compared to the larger brown and red lentils they are tiny, nuttier and require a longer cooking time.  If you can't find them where you live, substitute regular lentils, just shorten the cooking time by 20 minutes.  From a Dec. 2006 issue of Bon Appetit, this recipe for French Lentil Soup has all the basic flavors of a hearty, farmhouse soup.  For a more substantial meal, add some sliced, cooked, smoked sausage during the last 10 minutes of cooking time.  In my 10 inch dutch oven I sauteed the vegetables over a full compliment of coals then once I added the rest of the ingredients, moved the bottom coals to a ring around the outside and completely covered the lid with briquettes.  They took a good hour to cook but the end result was an elegant soup fragrant with bay, cumin and aromatic vegetables.  The best thing about the French lentils is that they hold their shape and won't turn to mush while cooking.  I am going to make a pot of this soup once a week throughout the winter, and don't forget to add that splash of vinegar, it really sharpens the flavor and gives this simple but earthy soup a lift.

French Lentil Soup
3 Tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth
1 12 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1 1/4 cup lentils, rinsed and drained
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cumin
Balsamic vinegar

     Lightly oil or spray dutch oven.
     Saute onions, celery, carrots and garlic in olive oil over a full spread of coals until vegetables begin to brown and soften.
     Add 4 cups broth, tomatoes with their juices, lentils, bay leaf and cumin; stir well.
     Move bottom coals to a ring around the base of the oven. 
     Cover with as many coals as needed to keep the soup at a steady simmer.
     Cook for one hour or until lentils are tender.
     Add a splash of Balsamic vinegar, if desired, and season with salt and pepper.

Saute vegetables and garlic in olive oil

Stir in remaining ingredients

Simmer for one hour if using French lentils

High in protein, this delicious soup is good for you too

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