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

Tomato Soup with Fennel

Last week, I finally got around to reading Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life. Molly is one of my favorite food bloggers, also known around the web as Orangette. I’ve made dozens of her blog recipes, and her husband’s chana masala is the gold standard recipe in our home now. I don’t know why I waited so long to read the book…I’ve had it for months. Molly feels like a friend after reading her blog for years and reading the book made that connection feel even stronger. A Homemade Life is a sort-of food memoir – she uses stories about food to share her life, celebrate milestones, and each chapter is punctuated with a homey recipe.

After reading Molly’s recipe for tomato soup with fennel, I immediately bookmarked the page so I could make a pot as soon as I finished reading. I love tomato soup – as a kid it was the comfort of Campbell’s, served for Saturday lunch with a grilled cheese sandwich and popcorn to garnish each spoonful of soup. When I lived in Washington at Holden Village, I rejoiced when cream of tomato soup was on the menu, and theirs is still my go-to recipe today. But Molly’s soup may be a new contender for my favored pot of comfort soup.

There’s nothing too fancy here – we’re talking slicing an onion and two bulbs of fennel, saute and add the tomatoes and herbs…but the simplicity is the thing. The fennel and tomatoes are magical together – the familiar anise-like flavor is there in every bite, but the tomatoes and slow simmer make the flavors complementary, rather than a harsh bite of raw fennel. Mark prefers his soup more toward the “stoupy” side, as in – more like a stew and less like a soup, and this filled the bill perfectly. We enjoyed the leftovers for lunches all week, and I brought along a small container of quinoa to add to my soup as well, so that I wouldn’t be starving by 3pm, since a bowl of this soup is very light on calories.

What’s your favorite way to eat tomato soup (or fennel)? Share your stories of your favorite bowl in the comments below!

Tomato Soup with Fennel
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life
Serves 6

2 28oz cans of whole, peeled plum tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced thin
2 fennel bulbs, stems removed, cut into quarters and sliced thin on a mandoline
2 T olive oil
1 T butter
1 tsp dried celery leaves, crumbled (optional)
2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
2 tsp whole fennel seeds
3 cups water
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp red wine vinegar

  1. Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil, butter, onions and fennel. Stir to coat the veggies, then saute for 5 minutes, until the onions just begin to soften. Add the garlic, thyme, celery leaves, fennel seeds and pinch of red pepper flakes – stir.
  2. Pour the cans of tomatoes into a large bowl and get your hands in there and crush the tomatoes. Pour the tomatoes into the pot along with 3 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil, then uncover and reduce heat to low to simmer for about an hour, until the fennel is meltingly soft, and the soup has thickened a little. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Pour half of the soup into a blender – cover the blender with a paper towel (instead of the lid) and puree until smooth. Add the puree back to the pot and stir. Add the tsp of sugar and red wine vinegar and stir. Taste, adjusting the seasoning as needed with extra salt, sugar, vinegar and pepper as needed. Serve.
153 cal per bowl, 60 cal from fat, 6g fat, 970mg sodium, 370mg potassium, 21g carbs, 5g fiber, 9g sugar, 4g protein

Sweet Potato Soup with Chorizo

Saturday morning, I awoke with a very sore throat. Fearing that this was the harbinger of Mark’s cold come to roost, I decided to hit it with everything (natural) that I had. So, out came the vegetable juicer and I dove into my carrot-ginger-celery juice regime, brewed endless pots of “tea” with grated ginger, honey and lemon and topped it off with a few mugs of peppermint tea.  By mid-morning, I’d pushed back against the cold and could actually both swallow and breathe through my nose…I could feel that victory was mine for the taking.

Knowing that root veggies are full of good antioxidants and vitamins that my immune system needed, I went for the knock-out punch and whipped up a big pot of Jamie Oliver’s Sweet Potato Soup that Shauna had posted about over on Pork, Knife and Spoon. The components of this soup are so simple, that this is a case where I’d really insist that you use homemade chicken stock. It makes such a difference in the depth of your soups, and it’s cheaper to make your own, too.

Jamie used spanish chorizo in his version, but I adore the fresh Mexican chorizo made by the butchers at my local Mexican produce market, so that’s what I used. I can live without most of the fat in chorizo, so I saute it first, and then drain it well on three sheets of paper towel. If you’re vegetarian, simply omit the chorizo, and add a heaping tablespoon of smoked paprika to the simmering soup, to add that smoky dimension – I bet it would be just as good. The soup came together in under an hour, and I love how you can taste every ingredient – sweets and carrots are highlighted by the spicy curry and chorizo. By Sunday morning, I was feeling better, and I’m giving this soup some of the credit.

What’s your favorite way to eat sweet potatoes? Discuss in the comment section…

Sweet Potato and Chorizo Soup
Adapted from Jamie’s Food Revolution
Serves 8

1 quart chicken stock, (the good homemade stuff that jiggles when chilled)
3 cups water
1.5 T grapeseed oil
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 medium onions, peeled and rough chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ¾ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
8oz Mexican Chorizo
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
2 T Madras curry powder (or to taste, if you don’t want too much heat)
3 T cooking sherry
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Bring a large (10qt+) pot to medium heat. Crumble the Mexican chorizo into the pot in one layer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes, rendering out a good amount of fat. Line a small plate with three layers of paper towel and scoop the sausage out of the pot and onto the paper towel to drain. Fold the edges of the paper towel over the chorizo and press to squeeze out more fat. Set aside. Wipe out the pot, and return it to medium-high heat
  2. Pour in the oil. Put all the chopped veggies into the hot oil. Add half of the curry powder and mix it all up. Cook until the carrots have softened but are not falling apart and the onions have turned a little golden, about 10 minutes.
  3. Pour in the stock and water. Give the soup a stir, cover and bring to to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the soup uncovered until the sweet potato is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  4. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Stir. Taste. Season it to your taste, adding another spoon of curry if you like it a little hotter (note: the curry will intensify overnight).
  5. Blend the soup with an immersion blender (easiest) or by pouring it into a large blender or food processor. Add the cooking sherry, and stir to incorporate. Garnish with a bit more parsley and serve.

258cal/serving, 13.4g fat, 27.2g carbs, 9.1g protein, 5.5g fiber, 8.1g sugar, 523mg sodium, 41.1mg cholesterol, 603mg potassium

Red Lentil Soup with Sausage and Roasted Red Peppers

This month’s meat farm share brought us a bag full of wonderful pork products. Pork shoulder, chops, bacon, ground pork, and 2 pounds of pork sausage. When the end of the of the month hits, with a new shipment of meat days away, it becomes a bit of a game to clear the meat from the freezer so that there’s room for the next delivery. Tough life, right?!  Looking for a little inspiration for all this pork, I stopped by the Closet Kitchen and as usual, Kevin had just the thing I was looking for.

I make a lot of soups in the Whole Kitchen, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. And by Sunday afternoon, the fridge is typically stuffed to the gills with storage containers full of soups and steel cut oats for breakfast and lunches for the week ahead. If I were to open a cafe, it would definitely be a cozy joint for homemade breakfast and soups – they’re what I most love to create in my kitchen.

I tend to favor the highly flavored brothy soups like the Thai Red Curry Soup I posted last week. Mark prefers a heartier soup, and probably would be thrilled if I made chili every week. Unfortunately for Mark, chili isn’t a great love of mine. This soup splits the difference, with a beautifully flavored broth, thanks to the red pepper flakes and aromatics, and a chunky, hearty texture to please the husband.

Italian Sausage and Red Lentil Soup
Serves 8
Adapted from Closet Cooking

1 pound pork sausage (Italian or breakfast sausage)
1 tsp oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
chili pepper flakes to taste
1 cup white wine
1 1/3 cup red lentils
4 cups homemade chicken stock
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups water
2 roasted red peppers, skins removed, seeded and sliced into bite sized pieces
2 bay leaves
1 T oregano
1 T red wine vinegar
1 parmigiano reggiano rind (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup parsley (chopped)

  1. Cook the sausage in a large pot, then drain the fat, scoop out the sausage and set aside.
  2. Wipe out the pot, return to heat and add 1tsp oil. Add the onions, carrot and celery and and cook until the vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano and chili pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about a minute.
  3. Add the white wine, sausage, lentils, chicken stock, water, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, bay leaves and parmigiano reggiano rind and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the lentils are tender about 30-45 minutes.
  5. Season with salt and pepper, remove from heat and mix in the parsley and red wine vinegar

302 cal per bowl, 70 cal from fat, 7.7g fat, 35mg cholesterol, 830mg sodium, 310mg potassium, 36g carbs, 7g fiber, 9g sugar, 18.5g protein

Thai Red Curry Soup with Shrimp

I love Thai food. On the now rare occasion that we eat out, Thai is usually at the top of my list. I still have to be very careful when ordering to avoid dishes that might have soy sauce in them (there’s wheat in soy sauce), so now I try to make the occasional Thai meal at home. I previously made this soup with chicken, but I had a pound of shrimp in the freezer leftover from the seafood gumbo, so I grabbed that instead.

Like most Thai dishes, this soup has a balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavors that makes each ingredient sing. If you’ve never used lemongrass before, this is a perfect introduction. Lemongrass is a tough, stalky grass that you don’t actually eat, but its aromatic, lemony flavor is essential to Thai soups. You can also toss just about any vegetable into the broth – I really like broccoli in this soup, I’d just forgot to pick some up at the market. If you want to make the soup a little heartier, serve it over a small scoop of brown rice. The soup is both light, and warming – perfect for the wet, dreary day we had on Sunday. A bowl of this soup will warm you right down to your toes (and may make your nose run a bit from the heat, too).

Thai Red Curry Soup with Shrimp

Serves 6
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, January 2007

1 T oil, divided
3 stalks lemon grass, tough outer leaves removed, bottom 5 inches halved lengthwise and sliced thin crosswise
1 onion, sliced
1 cup sliced red bell pepper
1 cup thinly sliced carrot rounds
12 sprigs fresh cilantro leaves and stalks, chopped coarse
3 T fish sauce, divided
5 cups homemade chicken stock
2 cups water
1 14oz can coconut milk
1 T sugar
2 cups fresh mushrooms , cleaned, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3/4 lb raw shrimp, peeled & deveined (shells reserved), sliced in half lengthwise
3 T lime juice
2 tsp red curry paste (Thai Kitchen brand)

Garnish: 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, lime wedges

  1. Heat 1.5 tsp oil in large soup pot over medium heat until just shimmering. Add lemon grass, 1/2 of the onion, cilantro, and 1 tablespoon fish sauce; cook, stirring frequently, until just softened, 2 to 5 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, reserved shrimp shells, water and coconut milk; bring to simmer over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until flavors have blended, 20 minutes. Pour broth through fine-mesh strainer and discard solids in strainer. Rinse the pot and return broth mixture to pan.
  2. Return pot to medium-high heat. Add 1.5 tsp oil to the pot, and add the last 1/2 sliced onion, bell pepper and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the carrots are beginning to soften.
  3. Pour the strained stock and coconut milk back into the pot, reduce heat to medium and add 1 T sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes, until carrots are tender. Next, add mushrooms, and cook 3 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring constantly, until no longer pink, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove soup from heat.
  4. Combine lime juice, curry paste, and remaining 2 tablespoons fish sauce in small bowl; stir into soup. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with cilantro. Serve immediately with lime wedges.

350 cal/bowl, 150 cal from fat, 17g fat, 125mg cholesterol, 950mg sodium, 600mg potassium, 22g carbs, 8g sugars, 21g protein