By Jessica Grann
Lentils are a vastly underrated whole grain, and American cooks are not prone to use them in their home cooking. I find lentils to be filling and nourishing, and the longer they soak in the food, the more flavorful they become.
There are two different types of lentils, and the type you choose makes a big difference in how a recipe will turn out. Most of us are familiar with green and red lentils, which are wonderful but tend to cook quickly and get mushy. Green and red lentils certainly have their place, but green French du Puy lentils and brown Greek lentils retain their shape and have a nice al dente bite to them. Because of this, they do take much longer to cook. If you can’t tell the difference by the label, the lentils for this recipe are almost round in shape, as opposed to disc-shaped.
You can use any kind of sausage to make this soup. I keep a kosher home and don’t have local access to many sausage varieties, so I use beef kielbasa.
This is a classic recipe that also can easily be made vegetarian. Simply use vegetable broth in place of chicken broth and leave out the sausage. There are also very good “no chicken” chicken broths out there in both powdered consommé and liquid forms.
This makes a nice, big batch and serves 8. I never make small batches of soup because it’s wonderful to freeze the extra and have an easy reheated supper on a busy night.
FRENCH LENTIL AND SAUSAGE SOUP
1 pound lentils, such as du Puy
¼ cup olive oil
3 cups chopped onions
3 rinsed and chopped leeks (Note: Leeks tend to be sandy and need a good soaking before use)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
2 teaspoons coarse ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons cumin
2 cups chopped celery
3 cups sliced carrots
3 quarts chicken broth, plus a little water if needed
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 pound sausage of your choice
¼ cup dry red wine, or 2 tablespoons of red wine or balsamic vinegar
Rinse and drain the lentils and place in a bowl. Boil a kettle of water and pour it over the lentils until just covered. Soak the lentils for 20 minutes and drain again.
In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onions for 5 minutes. Add the leeks, garlic, salt and pepper and sauté for 15 minutes longer. When the onion mixture looks translucent, stir in the fresh herbs and cumin.
Add the carrots and celery and sauté for an additional 10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste before adding the chicken stock, drained lentils and 2 bay leaves. Bring to a boil, place the lid on and reduce the heat to simmer for 1 hour.
Dice the sausage into cubes. Some people like to sauté it first for an added texture, but I’m all about saving time and I just add it in right out of the package. Add the sausage and wine/vinegar and cook uncovered for an additional 25-30 minutes.
This soup does not have a lot of excess broth, but if you feel that the lentils are really soaking up the liquid you can stir in water, half a cup at a time, until it reaches your desired consistency. Remove the bay leaves before serving. If you like a little kick in your food, add 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper when you add in the sausage.
Because this soup takes almost 2 hours to prep and fully cook, I tend to serve it for Shabbat lunch or for Sunday dinner with loaves of French bread. This is a hearty soup that is a perfect meal all on its own. Enjoy!
Two notes about fresh herbs and wine in recipes
For herbs: It is much more cost effective to grow your own herbs, but if you choose to buy fresh herbs and have extra left over, simply freeze the leftovers to use at a later time. You can also use dried herbs in place of fresh herbs. The ratio is 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs. This conversion works for every kind of herb.
For wine: When you need small amounts for a recipe, and you’re not going to drink wine with dinner, it can feel wasteful to open up a new bottle just for cooking. Think ahead next time you’re serving wine. If you open up a bottle of wine that you just don’t love, or if you open too much when entertaining and it’s starting to lose its freshness, that is a perfect time to freeze wine for later use in cooking. You can use ice cube trays or just freeze it in a plastic storage bag or container — simply label the type of wine and amount stored on the bag or container.
Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.