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Oct. 4th, 2009

Yesterday, I was going to make lentil soup. And then it turned out that we had hardly any good soup vegetables -- either we used them all up or I was misremembering -- so I made mushroom-barley-oh-yeah-and-some-lentils soup instead. In honor of this, I post the recipe for the kind of soup I was initially going to make! (I can do it for the mushroomy one too, if there's interest. But this is my handy basic framework soup.)

Fair warning: I pretty much never measure ingredients. Do not look for precise amounts here. Luckily, this soup is immensely forgiving as far as that goes! Also, the recipe is long because I am rambly, but it's dead easy; it's basically "toss a bunch of stuff in a pot, wait a while, toss in a few more things, wait some more, and then eat. OM NOM NOM."

Gen's Lentil-Orzo Soup


brown lentils, a good handful or so
orzo, a good handful or two (or other starch: rice, barley, diced potatoes, and other sorts of pasta all work well too. You could even go crazy and go for tortellini.)
1 small onion, or 1/3 to 1/2 of a larger onion
garlic, 3-4 cloves, or more if you like garlic a lot (I do)
butter (or olive oil, vegetable oil, etc)
mushrooms, carrots, spinach, any other soup-friendly vegetables you like
broth, several cups (six or so, I guess?)
a good splash of lemon juice, or a spoonful of tomato paste, or at least one diced tomato (fresh or canned, but canned has a stronger flavor)
thyme, fresh or dried
1 or 2 bay leaves (can be left out if you don't have them)
salt and pepper
optional: a splash of red wine

First step: chop up the onion and mince the garlic. It's going into soup, so you don't need to be too picky about all the pieces being regular and perfect, but I try for smallish pieces. I usually find it easiest to chop up all the rest of the vegetables at this stage, too.

Toss a knob of butter or a good splash of oil in the bottom of a biggish saucepan. Turn the burner on to medium or so. (I have a gas stove, which is nice because it responds fast to changes in the heat level. Also because I am easily entertained, and find it fun to judge cooking heat by the size of the flames.) Heat it up enough to melt the butter if that's what you're using, and toss in the chopped onions. Stir frequently -- you don't need to stir constantly or anything, but give the onions a poke every minute or so. The goal is to have everything lightly coated in oil/butter and cooking evenly, and nothing sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning.

When the onions are starting to turn translucent around the edges, toss in the garlic. If you're using mushrooms, I usually toss them in around now too. Keep doing the occasionally-stirring thing.

When you've been doing that for a few minutes -- before the garlic starts turning brown, ideally, although if that happens it's not the end of the world -- you can splash in the wine, if you're adding any. Maybe a quarter of a cup or so? Stir it all around some more, and let the flavors cook together a little more. If you're not adding wine, skip that step and go straight to the next one, which is: pour in the broth.

(A note on broth, by the way. I tend to prefer the kind that comes liquid in an airtight package, rather than using boullion or powdered broth. I find the liquid sort tastes much better. I have totally used the other sort, though, and it makes it saltier and less nuanced but not bad. You're also totally allowed to use some of one and some of another if you don't have enough of one kind or want to make the flavors more varied. One other thing I'll often do is take dried mushrooms -- a good way to get fancier, more interesting mushrooms, too -- and put them in a big bowl, and pour bowling water over them. Put a plate on top to keep the heat in, and let them slowly reconstitute while you're chopping things for your soup. Then, use the mushroomy water from the bowl as part of your broth! This only works if you like mushrooms, but I do.)

So anyway! Broth is in. And suddenly, what you have is a pot full of what's turning into soup, rather than a pot full of sauteed vegetables. Awesome! Let the broth come to a boil or very nearly so, and then turn your burner down to low. What you want is a simmer, where the surface of the liquid is just barely ripply.

Toss in the thyme and bay leaves, and some salt and pepper. Toss in the carrots, if you're using any, and any other vegetables that take a while to cook.

Toss in your lentils! If you're using barley, potatoes, or rice, toss that in now too. If you're using pasta, wait 20 minutes or so before you do, because pasta cooks a lot faster than those other things.

You don't need to stir much at this point. But every once in a while, come back and poke at the pot some. When everything is getting close to done, but not quite soft enough, toss in your lemon juice and/or tomato paste and/or tomatoes. If you're adding spinach or any other leafy green things, add those now too. They cook fast, so they don't need to stew that whole time.

When it's all soft enough, you're done! Turn off the heat, add some more salt and pepper if you think it needs it, and enjoy. If you like, you could add a splash of tabasco or other hot sauce, though I don't.

This stores really well -- this is a recipe I make in a big pot, and then I have a few days' lunches to refrigerate out of the leftovers. I will say that the starch tends to keep absorbing water even in the fridge, so you'll find that your leftovers turn increasingly into a thick stew. If this bugs you, just add some water and stir it in before you reheat a bowlful.

ETA: This is vegetarian, at least if you use vegetable broth rather than chicken, and easy to make vegan if you just opt for oil instead of butter. Easy to do gluten-free, also, if you pick a non-gluten-y starch. If you're a meat-eater, you could certainly use chicken broth, and/or toss in a bit of ham early on to simmer its flavor into the soup.


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