It's been one heck of a week in our household. My husband, daughter and little Gracie have all been struck with a nasty flu bug that's going around that's rendered them all miserable, achy and lethargic.There have been moments when I felt like I was in some alter universe where I was an angel of mercy/short order cook. We've gone through so many boxes of tissues that I'm thinking I should have bought shares in Proctor and Gamble. The kids have had my greatest sympathy...poor little dollies. As for my husband, he was NOT impressed with my referring to his illness as the "Man Flu'. (Apparently, not only can the flu render one completely helpless, but it can also erase all evidence of a sense of humour). I actually feel bad for teasing him now though after reading an online article in the UK's Telegraph entitled "Man Flu, The Truth Women Don't Want to Hear', Apparently, according to a Standord University study, men may actually suffer more when they're struck down with the flu because high levels of testosterone can weaken their immune response. I think my husband might be rounding a corner though because when I apologized for teasing him about the man flu and told him about the article, he said, 'I must be one testosterone touting troubadour then!!'. Ahh....my Stephen's sense of humour is coming back!
Nevertheless, no one was in the mood for any of my fancy cooking, (perish the thought...I know). I considered doing a regular ole Chicken Noodle or Turkey Vegetable Soup but then I remembered that I had a package of red lentils in the cupboard. Red Lentil Soup is comforting, simple and easy to throw together with the bare minimum of ingredients. It's hearty and healthy and perfect for when the body needs a little rest from indulgent eating.
The lentil is an edible pulse or grain legume. Legumes provide our bodies with an arsenal of valuable nutrients ready to protect our health from a number of relentless enemies, such as high cholesterol, constipation, cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Legumes contain a dietary fiber that doesn't stay in the gut after dgestion and that binds with cholesterol in the digestive tract, taking it with it as it's excreted. Also, because the fiber in lentils doesn't stay in the gut, it facilittes the movement of food through the digestive tract thereby reducing constipation. Legumes also contain certain phytochemicals that may suppress the growth of tumour cells and reduce the risk of suffering from certain types of cancer such as prostate cancer. The soluble fibers also help stabilize blood sugar levels. Because lentils are a good source of iron, which is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all of the body's cells, lentils also increase energy levels.
Lentils have been part of the human diet since aceramic (before pottery) Neolthic times. Archaeological evidence shows they were eaten 9,500 to 13,000 years ago. Lentils were even mentioned in the Bible both as the item that Jacob traded to Esau for his birthright and as part of a bread that was made during the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people. In many Catholic countries, lentils have long been used as a staple food during lent, the time of preparation for Easter Sunday which commences on Ash Wednesday.
But none of those reasons were the reason I decided on making Red Lentil Soup nor were they the reason that I had some in my cupboard. I happen to like lentils, of all colours, from yellow to red-orange, to green, brown and black. They are a good source of Vitamin B, iron, calcium, fiber and protein. Red lentils in particular are perfect when you're in a hurry to get a meal on the table since they're de-husked and split before packaging and they cook up in quarter of the time of other varieties of legumes. Their color changes from orangy-pink to golden-yellow as they cook and melt into a soup, curry or stew.
So by being convenient, quick-cooking, high in iron to combat the lethargy of my loved ones, high in antioxidants, ('cause let's face it... I don't have time for the flu...I'd rather a spa day!) , and absolutely scrumptious, Red Lentil Soup was a no-brainer!
Before I began cooking, I gathered and prepped my ingredients: olive oil, 1 large carrot, (I only had yellow carrot so that's what I used), 2 celery ribs, 1 small onion, 1 cup red lentils, carton of no salt added chicken broth, 1 fresh bay leaf, 1 clove of garlic, a little Italian seasoning and the juice of 1 lemon.
I heated a 3 quart saucepan over medium heat and added in 1 Tbsp olive oil. Next I added in one diced carrot, two diced celery ribs and one diced onion. I seasoned this with a sprinkling of kosher salt and stirred to combine. I then added in 1 clove of garlic, minced, and 1 tsp dry Italian Seasoning. Just before placing the cover on my pot to let the vegetables sweat until the onions were soft and translucent, about 5 minutes, I impulsivley added in a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes to bring a little heat thinking the ailing tastebuds of my patients, ummm, I mean loved ones, might need a little waking up.
I then added in 4 c. no salt added chicken broth (which can easily be substituted with vegetable broth), and one fresh bay leaf. I brought the soup to a boil, and then reduced the heat to low and let it simmer, covered, until the lentils began to fall apart, about 20 minutes.
During that 20 minutes, I considered what to serve with my Red Lentil Soup and decided on slicing a ciabatta loaf into thick slices, slightly buttered the slices and sprinkled with a little freshly grated parmesan cheese and toasted the bread in the oven for about 10 minutes. Red Lentil Soup is also really nice with a dollup of some sort of topping such as a peppery dipping oil, tangy Greek yogurt, pesto or perhaps a gremolata, which is a traditional Italian condiment that simply consists of chopped fresh parsley, minced garlic and lemon zest. While my bread was in the oven, I chopped a bunch of fresh Italian parsley, used a micrograter to grate a clove of garlic and then zested the lemon, (the juice from which would be added to my soup just before serving). Zesting the lemon AFTER grating the garlic, usinhg the same grater, helps remove the odor of garlic which makes for easier clean-up. I then finely chopped the Italian parsley, garlic and lemon zest together and placed it in a little serving dish.
This simple gremolata of Italian parsley, garlic and lemon zest gives the Red Lentil Soup a punch of freshness and brightens up the whole bowl!
Once the red lentils, now yellow, had begun to fall apart, I turned the heat off under the pot, removed the bay leaf and stirred in the juice of the lemon. At that point, I tested my soup for seasoning and decided it needed another little pinch of kosher salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper. I laddled the soup into bowls and placed the bowls on a plate with two slices of toasted ciabatta bread.
This soup is so hearty you'll never miss the meat. It's warm and soothing and the little punch from the gremolata made it refreshing and bright. The thick sliced ciabatta was perfect for tearing off pieces and dunking into all that warm deliciousness and did double duty to soak up every last little drop making it an excellent companion to this hearty, healthy Red Lentil Soup.
Half an hour is all that is needed from stovetop to table, most of which is unattended, which makes this perhaps the easiest soup to make. For well under $10 you have enough soup as a main meal for four, plus plenty leftover for lunch the next day. To store, simply place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one week.
Red Lentil soup is high on taste and low on guilt. This is one of the very few dishes that you can actually feel good about AND love! If you only make one thing I blog about, this soup is it!
Whether you're cooking for one, your family, nursing the sick or whipping up a little luncheon for your besties, Red Lentil Soup....easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!