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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Cajun Lentil Soup


Soup is one of my favorite things about fall. As temperatures cool, I crave warm and satisfying foods, like this simple lentil soup.

Lentils are a good source of vegetarian protein. I used two kinds here, the regular brown variety that hold their shape and also some red lentils that dissolve to thicken the broth. The red lentils are so tender and small that they don't need to be pre-soaked. Ideally, the brown lentils should be soaked. In a pinch, you could get away without soaking them, but this extra step makes them easier to digest and their nutrients more bioavailable.

This recipe calls for pasture-raised bacon. You can skip it if you prefer a vegetarian version, but it does give this soup a savory, smokey richness. And it's a good example of how a little meat can go a long way. Use it as a condiment in a plant-based diet, rather than the main course.

My mandolin makes quick work of chopping the onion and carrot
(I used the thin julienne blade) but a knife works just fine.

The Cajun seasoning is an aromatic mixture of cumin, coriander, paprika, rosemary, peppercorn and chipotle pepper (a smoked jalapeno). If that's enough spice for you, omit the fresh chili pepper.
I like the extra heat and the fresh chili flavor, so I use both.

3 slices pasture-raised bacon, chopped
2 cups finely chopped carrots
2 cups finely chopped onion
1 fresh chili pepper, minced (optional)
3 or 4 cloves garlic, grated or minced
2 cups chopped fresh tomato or crushed tomatoes
2 tsp Cajun seasoning (recipe follows)
2 cups dry lentils, soaked 8 hours or more, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained
2 cups concentrated home-made bone broth (chicken or turkey)
Whole milk plain yogurt to garnish (optional)
Fresh oregano or other fresh herbs to garnish (optional)

Warm the chopped bacon in a heavy soup pot over low heat until the fat has rendered and the bacon has browned. Stir in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds more, until the garlic becomes aromatic. Stir in the onion and carrot and continue cooking until they start to brown.

Add the tomatoes and Cajun seasoning. Stir to combine, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Once the tomatoes have broken down and formed a sauce, add the brown lentils, red lentils, broth and enough water to cover all of the ingredients generously.

Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting and simmer until the broth has thickened and the lentils and vegetables are tender. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Serve immediately, garnished with yogurt and fresh herbs if you like, or cover and set it aside if you're making it in advance. Once it cools to room temperature, transfer it to the fridge if you're not planning to eat it within 2 hours of turning off the heat.

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