This will be the first of a series of posts for people who are new to cooking. I’m aiming to put down a few basic recipes with step by step pictures, because cookbooks often give instructions but it can be hard to know what the food should look like.
That’s not to say it won’t be useful for more experienced cooks, of course. Today’s recipe is a brilliant winter warmer that tastes really rich and tasty, but contains lots of healthy ingredients. It’s also pretty cost effective to make too, and flexible so you can add whatever is in the fridge/storecupboard rather than rushing out to buy ingredients new.
The only thing that might not be in your kitchen anyway is parmesan rind. This is the hard bit that’s left at the end of a wedge of parmesan. It adds a fantastic umami flavour (savouriness) and takes a lot of the guesswork out of seasoning. Some parmesan-type cheese can be pricey, but you can get very reasonably priced parmesan/grana padano from Lidl. Once you use up the main part of the block, keep the rinds stashed in a freezer bag in your freezer.
Tomato & Lentil Soup (serves 4-6)
1 onion, chopped
1-2 carrots, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-2 tbs olive oil
1-2 tins chopped tomatoes
1 handful red lentils
2 handfuls green lentils
Around 1l chicken or veg stock (I used Marigold veg stock – 2 tsp per litre)
A bay leaf*
1 tsp herbes de provence/mixed herbs
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
*If you’re local to Bristol, Wai Yee Hong is a fantastic place to pick up huge bags of bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and other herbs and spices at a fraction of the regular supermarket price and they also offer online ordering for those who live further afield.
- Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and fry on a lowish heat – you want the vegetables to sweat down and look glistening, soft and maybe a tiny bit golden around the edges. (nb – I didn’t have any celery when I made this, which is why you can’t see any in the picture – I just left it out!)
- Add the lentils, bay leaf, mixed herbs and dried chilli flakes and give it all a good stir. Let it cook for barely a minute, just to make sure everything is nicely mixed in. In the picture below you’ll see what looks like 3 different kinds of lentils – this was because I had a the end of a packet of lentilles verts to use up – these are very similar to green lentils but smaller and a bit nuttier. They’re interchangeable in this recipe.
- Stir in the tomatoes – depending on how many people you are cooking for and how thick you want your soup, you might want to add 1 tin or 2 (2 makes it thicker and more stewy).
- Next you need to add your stock. How much you add will depend on how thick you want your soup. When you first put the stock in, you might think ‘aargh! this is so watery, it will never cook down to make a lovely unctuous broth!’Don’t panic. The lentils will soak up a surprising amount of the stock as they cook, and the red lentils will break down and thicken the liquid in a similar way to flour. As a guide, you probably want the stock to come up 2-3 inches/5-6cm higher than the level of your lentil mixture in the pot.Oh! And if you have a parmesan rind, now is the time to add it, along with seasoning. Given that you’ve used stock and might be using parmesan, I’d just add pepper at this stage, as you can always add salt later if needed but you don’t want to make it too salty.
- Bring the soup to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer away until the lentils have cooked.
How long will this take? Well, it depends on the size and age of the lentils. Older lentils take longer to cook. As a rough guide, it should take something like 30-45 minutes. You’ll know when they are done as the soup will have reduced down to look much thicker and if you bite into one of the green lentils, they’ll be softened enough that they have a slight initial bite but will feel kind of mealy, like a butterbean on your tongue. If they taste the slightest bit chalky or gritty then they aren’t done yet.You should keep an eye on the soup as it cooks to make sure it doesn’t get too dry, or catch on the bottom of the pan – give it a good stir every 15 mins or so if in doubt. Add more water/stock if you think it is getting too stodgy. When it’s done, it should look like this:
You can see by the tomatoey ring in the pan just how much the liquid has reduced – those were thirsty lentils!
- Give the seasoning a last quick check, then ladle it into bowls. You can add a sprinkle of grated cheese if you like (this is also a sneaky way to revive a soup that seems to lack savour and body!) or croutons, or if you are feeling particularly cheffy, then this oaten soda bread from the National Trust Country Cookbook by Laura Mason goes rather well and can be whipped up whilst the soup is simmering.