Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cleaning the Fridge, or "Rustic" Lentil Soup

It's a late Saturday evening, and our fridge is full. I sleepily open the door to discover a partially eaten roasted chicken and several shelves full of week-old vegetables. I look behind, pull out a wedge of cheese as a snack and settle in to plan a soup to use up the leftover chicken and vegetables.

I have traditionally thought of soup as a way to use up food before it goes bad. This approach has served us well. As twenty-somethings who would rather spend a day wandering around a good grocery store or market than going somewhere to have watered down drinks and dance the night away, you can imagine the state of our refrigerator. We'll do spontaneous things, like buy three different bunches of greens just because they were on sale and I want to compare their tastes. It makes for a collection of disparate vegetables which we can't eat fast enough. Soup is one of the easiest ways to get a large quantity of vegetables cooked down and preserved for a little bit longer.

But, soup is much more than a method to save my vegetables from the trash bin. To me, it's the ultimate comfort food. If done right, soup can be the only meal you need. And trust me, my soup? It's done just right. Chocked full of vegetables for lots of flavor and color, lentils and barley to give additional volume and protein, plus chicken for extra oomph (and, of course, more protein). I top each bowl with a generous topping of Pecorino, and the two of us settle in with a great movie and wonderful company. It's a soup that is suitable for serving to guests, as well as for a quick heat up for lunch.

To me, the process of making this soup is almost therapeutic. I like to take the time to simmer a stock from a chicken carcass, and I feel that the flavor is better with a homemade stock. Yet, I know that many people don't have or don't want to take the time to make a stock. And that's fine. There are plenty of good homemade stocks on the market. Choose one that is very low in sodium and very high in flavor. You can't go wrong. Soup is all about trial and error, and taking chances. So grab your stock pots and get experimenting! Don't forget to let me know how your soups turn out.

Delicious Slow Cooked Italian Lentil Soup serves 10-12

Note: You may start with pre-made chicken or vegetable stock or use your favorite store-bought stock to start off this soup. In this case, simply skip the instructions detailing the process for making the stock.

What You'll Need: A large stock pot. (Seriously people, huge)


For stock-

One fairly picked over chicken carcass

1 large carrot, scrubbed not peeled, chopped roughly

2 stalks of celery and and leaves, chopped roughly

1 small yellow onion, chopped roughly

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1/4 tsp salt

1 handful chopped parsley (optional)

For soup-

1 pot of stock (recipe to follow)
1.5 cup French lentils (sort through to remove sticks and stones)

2/3 cup Barley

1-2 handfuls of parsley, chopped

1 medium-large yellow onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and pepper, to taste
3-4 large carrots, peeled and chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 28 oz can roasted tomatoes (or use your own and roast them on the grill!), diced or crushed

1/2 head of broccoli, chopped roughly

3-4 large florets of cauliflower, chopped roughly

Shredded chicken meat

Grated Romano cheese, to serve (optional)

What You'll Do:

For the Stock:

1. Strip chicken carcass of all use-able meat, and set aside meat for later use.

2. Break down the bones into manageable chunks, which are able to easily fit in your stock pot. Toss the chicken hunks and any leftover skin and fat into the pot, and fill pot with water until bones are covered with at least 2 inches of water.

3. Add in all other ingredients, and insure everything is covered with at least an inch of water. Add more if necessary. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.

4. Using a slotted spoon, occasionally skim surface clean of any foam. Continue with this skimming and simmering for about 3-4 hours.

5. When time is up and stock is both colorful and flavorful, strain to separate bones and vegetables. Repeat, if necessary, to insure that you remove all the bone fragments. For a clearer stock, strain through a cheesecloth.

6. Stock will save frozen for at least 2 months, and save in the refrigerator for a few days.
For the


1. Rinse both lentils and barley, and sort through to remove any stones or sticks which may have been mixed in during harvesting.

2. In your large stock pot, add pre-made stock (about 5-7 cups) and another 3 cups of additional water. Bring to a boil.

3. Stir in your lentils and barley once you have reached a good simmer. Add parsley, onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper (I like to add a handful of red pepper flakes, but if you don't like a little bite don't worry about them).

4. Cook for about 20 minutes. As the lentils and barley cook, you may need to add additional water. Add in additional ingredients (carrots through cauliflower) and cook for another 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

5. Add in shredded chicken meat and cook for another 5 minutes, or until chicken is thoroughly warmed. Check your seasoning, and adjust as necessary.

6. Serve, garnishing with a little grated Romano cheese.

7. Any leftovers may be refrigerated for up to a week. Reheat on stove to a light simmer, or microwave, to serve leftovers.

*Note: What makes this soup recipe so amazing is its flexibility. The lentils and barley add a lot of fiber and protein, making the chicken meat and stock go farther nutritionally. In addition, the lentils and barely continue to flavor the stock. This means that as you eat through the pot, you can add water and vegetables and "stretch" your soup out for a couple more days. Any sort of bean can be substituted for the lentils, and you can exchange the barley for pasta. However, I find that barley is much cheaper and offers more protein than most other grains. To add even more nutrition substitute vegetables as they come in season, or add 2 heaping handfuls of chopped greens (kale, spinach, collards). Anything goes!

No comments:

Post a Comment