First Fall Soup

Technically, it's not yet fall. But September 19th is just around the corner and it feels like fall in New York.

Maybe the cool and cloudy weather is especially striking for me because I recently returned from a vacation in the hot and dry southwestern United States. I celebrated the wedding of some close friends and visited some of our gorgeous national parks.

When I was hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back, conditions were sweltering: sunny and 116 degrees Fahrenheit with steep trails, no shade and only the water I could carry. I could feel heat radiating from the red earth and red rocks as I walked over them; it was like hiking through a sauna.

But it was also stunning: walking quietly along mountainous ridges with 360 degree views, strolling through soft, white sand next to the aqua-blue Colorado river, and soaking in an ice cold creek after we arrived at our destination: Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the canyon, more than a mile deep.

Upon my return to New York, summer suddenly felt like fall. The cooler temperatures, clouds and rain made me long for soup. Lacking provisions after my recent trip, I opted to make a simple lentil soup with ingredients I already had on hand, plus a few fresh veggies.

My newly-wedded friend sent me home with fresh California bay leaves and rosemary, so I used those, but dried herbs can also be used. The chipotle pepper makes this soup spicy and smoky, but if you don’t have a chipotle, you can substitute any dried chili pepper. Or leave it out entirely if you don't like your soup spicy. I used home-made duck stock because I happened to have some in my freezer, but you can substitute poultry stock, or mushroom or vegetable broth, or even water.

Serve this simple but satisfying soup with a big green salad and fresh figs for a hearty autumn meal.

Simple Smoky Lentil Soup

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
2 or more cloves fresh garlic
1 cup lentils, pre-soaked for 2 to 4 hours if possible
2 fresh bay leaves
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 dried chipotle pepper
Sea salt
Ground peppercorn
2 cups strong home-made duck stock

Warm the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and carrots. Cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Use a sharp knife to puncture holes in the chipotle pepper and set it aside.

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Grate the garlic cloves into the pot and stir. Add the lentils, bay leaves, chopped rosemary and chipotle pepper. Season with sea salt and ground peppercorn. Stir and continue cooking for another minute or two, until the garlic becomes aromatic. Do not burn the garlic.

Add the duck broth and enough water to cover the lentils and vegetables. Bring to a boil, the reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes or more, until the lentils are tender. Add boiling water as the soup cooks if the level of broth becomes low.

Once the soup is done, turn off the heat. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Serve immediately or cover until ready to serve.

This soup can be made in advance. If it cools to room temperature before you are ready to serve it, store it in the fridge.

Serves 4 to 6