Red Lentil and Ham Soup

This is a hard time of year for food. The weather outside is sunny and cool, the tulips are blooming all over Chicago and the anticipation of summer is in the air. And here I am making more winter soups. Ho hum. We try to eat seasonally as much as possible in The Whole Kitchen, and living in a northern climate means that local spring crops don’t really hit their stride until late May-early June. Which leaves us with a couple of months of extended winter eating. So here we are – another lentil soup…but it’s a good one, I promise!

I can’t get enough of red lentils. Heidi Swanson turned me on to them with two different red lentil soups, and now I seem to be reaching for the jar of red lentils in the pantry all the time. They are the perfect lentil when you want to add some texture to your soup without it screaming “lentils!” Red lentils (masoor dal) fall apart after cooking for about a half hour and have a light, fluttery presence in the broth. If you’re making a traditional Indian dal – it’s hard to beat the quick cooking time of red lentils.

This particular pot of soup was intended to be minestrone with wild rice. I had a beautiful ham hock from the whole ham we received in our meat farm share last month, a pot of freshly made chicken stock and I had green beans, sweet corn and all kinds of wintery veggies to be tossed into the pot. But minestrone was not to be. It just wasn’t appealing to me Sunday morning when I was chop chop chopping away. The weather outside wasn’t helping, with cold rain pounding down – I wanted something warm my belly. Out came that trusty jar of red lentils. In the end, I’m not sure what you’d call this soup – “Red Lentil Wants to be Minestrone,” maybe. It’s got gobs of veggies, and I took a page from my Indian spiced red lentil soup with the black mustard and cumin – the two flavors went perfectly with the smoky ham with a spike of heat from the red pepper flakes. Served with a scoop of wild rice, this is a perfect soup for a rainy Spring day.

Red Lentil Vegetable Soup with Ham
Serves 6

1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
2 large carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T ghee (or butter)
1 T coconut oil
1 T black mustard seeds, whole
1 tsp cumin, whole
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
3 bay leaves
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 10oz ham hock
salt & pepper to taste
1 T champagne vinegar
garnish with cilantro
cooked wild rice (optional)

  1. Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add ghee and coconut oil to the pot along with mustard seeds and whole cumin. Cook until the black mustard seeds just begin to pop, then add the onion, red bell pepper, carrot and celery to the pot with 1/4 tsp salt. Stir to coat the veggies with the oil, and saute for about 10 minutes, until the veggies begin to soften, stirring every couple of minutes. After the 10 minutes, add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the cumin, rosemary, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, chicken stock, water, red lentils, ham hock. Cover and bring the soup to a boil.
  2. When the soup comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for an hour, uncovered, stirring occasionally. As the soup simmers, the red lentils will fall apart. After an hour, remove the bay leaves and ham hock and blend for a just a few seconds with an immersion blender. You don’t want the soup to be completely smooth – just puree it a little to smooth the lentils in the broth just a touch. Let the ham hock cool for a few minutes until you can handle it, then shred the meat off the bone, and add it back to the pot. Season the soup to taste with salt & pepper, and add 1 T of champagne vinegar, stir, and then serve. Garnish each bowl with cilantro. Serve with a scoop of wild rice if you like.

406 cal per bowl, 110 cal from fat, 13g fat, 30mg cholesterol, 800mg sodium, 450mg potassium, 51g carbs, 9g fiber, 8g sugars, 22g protein

12 thoughts on “Red Lentil and Ham Soup

  1. oohhh! Just because this recipe has lentils, cumin and mustard seeds, and ghee, it seems like a nice fusion dish to me! I love the extra flavoring of Coconut oil, and the ham you’ve added. In my sub-culture (Bohra), lentil and mutton soups are quite commonly prepared. Since I can’t eat pig meat, I reckon your recipe will taste wonderful with some nice lamb or mutton pieces. Must try when I get the time… Very very interesting recipe Jenn!

    • Thanks, Sabera! I would try swapping out the ham hock with a lamb shank or two – I bet it would be amazing…maybe even better! If you wanted add the smoky flavor, I’d add a tsp or two of smoked paprika (one of my new favorite spices).

      I can’t get over the magic of mustard seeds popping in the oil now that you told me how to use them properly! 🙂

  2. looks great jenn! i am so jealous of all the other bloggers outside of the midwest who get all their fresh produce for spring in april :(. woh-woh.

    thanks again for your comment the other day – much appreciated !!!

    • I know, right?! All the west coast bloggers are talking ramps and asparagus and PEAS…and that’s at least 6 weeks off for us. Boo. I just walked to the downtown Farmstand to see if they had anything interesting for me to use this weekend, but aside from the lettuces (which did look amazing), still not much new there. Picked up some mushrooms and hoop house cukes, though.

  3. This looks like one my hubs will love. I never had lentils growing up, so I’m still getting used to considering them as an option in my cooking.

    I hate having to wait until June for my CSA, but I’m so excited to be getting one for the first summer ever! The farmers market by my work just started yesterday so I can’t wait to see what they might have for me in the meantime. I’ve seen a couple of asparagus posts and now I really wish I’d tracked down some local stuff this weekend while up north.

    • I never had lentils growing up, either, but now I love them – especially in soups! Mark doesn’t love them quite as much as I do, but so long as I put enough “chunky stuff” in the soups, he’s cool with lentils.

      You’ll love the CSA – it definitely gets me thinking about cooking more creatively! Our farmers markets are still a few weeks away yet, and I’m eager for them to open!

  4. I searched for a recipe that has red lentils and ham and found yours. Will omitting the black mustard seeds be a big problem? The only thing I have is dry mustard powder.

    • SO sorry for the delay – I’ve been traveling for the last 2 weeks for work. Try the dry mustard. The whole seeds impart a stronger, more Indian flavor, but it’ll definitely be tasty with dry mustard, too.

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