I make lentil soup more than any other soup (in fact, have we talked about it before? I can’t remember). I don’t get sick of it. It’s a perfect lunch. It’s a perfect dinner. It’s a perfect soup.
And the most perfect of the perfect recipes, in my humble opinion, comes from Mrs. Perfection herself: Ina Garten. Ina’s books are pretty reliable, recipe wise. And if you are capable of harboring affection for (or at least accepting) slightly elitest perfectionists, she’s for you.
For this recipe, I follow it pretty much as written. Sometimes I add turmeric, bay leaf, extra thyme, lemon juice, and I always swap out a vegetarian base stock for chicken stock. The leeks make all the difference (as they do in lots of soups).
French Lentil and Vegetable Soup
1 pound French green lentils, picked over and rinsed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
3 large onions, chopped
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 large leeks, white and tender green parts only, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 teaspoon ground cumin
8 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch dice
6 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 quarts chicken stock or low-sodium broth (I use veggie stock, or water and a bay leaf)
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons dry red wine or red wine vinegar (I use fresh squeezed lemon juice in a pinch, or in addition to the vinegar if I want more acid)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
In a large heatproof bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. (I never do this step, and my soup turns out awesome. Lentils don’t really need to be soaked).
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onions, garlic, leeks, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons of pepper and the thyme and cumin and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.
Add the celery and carrots and cook until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste and lentils to the pot. Increase the heat to high, cover and bring to a boil. Uncover, reduce the heat to moderate and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 1 hour. You can always add more water or stock if you feel your soup is too stewy. If you like it thick, cook it a little longer, liquid will evaporate.
When the soup is done to your liking, stir in the red wine and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of Parmesan.
MAKE AHEAD The soup can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Let return to room temperature and reheat gently, adding more stock to adjust the consistency if necessary.