Ugly Soup

Lentil & Potato Soup

I’m sure there are many Italians who do not appreciate the nickname I’ve given this soup, but really, I had little choice. Whenever make this soup for someone for the first time, objections are raised immediately. I mean, it does look like dog food. It’s really just not even a little bit pretty.

Happily, what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in taste. Especially my jazzed-up version. Traditionally, this is a comforting yet very dull soup. But I’ve added a little trick that takes it from good to great, and all because my kids are little potato-heads.

In most versions, this is a plain lentil soup with diced potatoes, a tomato base (I prefer a broth base), some aromatics. Cheap and…not cheerful, exactly, but nourishing. I made it a touch nicer by using Puy lentils or black beluga lentils which retain their shape a little more, are not so musty tasty as regular lentils, and are a less dreary shade of khaki when cooked. I threw in a Parmasean rind to the broth for a little more backbone.

But the greatest tidbit is this: use leftover fried potatoes. Fry them up in olive oil, or bacon grease, or duck fat. Whatever you like. But fry them up with big slices of garlic that get nicely browned and caramelized on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside. Add those to your soup, then add more garlic. And top with Parmesan cheese.

Now come on. Anything would taste great if you cooked it up like that and drizzled it with olive oil. But these garlicky lentils are more palate-pleasing than you can possible believe. And given that they are full of protein, fibre, magnesium, folic acid, zinc and Vitamins A & C, and cheap to boot, why are earth are you not cooking lentils with regularity?

I know you all have Instapots now, so you can pressure cook your lentils, like I did. Or just cook them on a stovetop. I have a stovetop pressure cooker, which I really should use more often. I find it provides me more control and flexibility than a countertop version. But to each her own.

If you don’t have leftover fried potatoes, it’s worth making them for this soup. Plain peeled, uncooked are fine, but we can have good nutrition AND great taste, and so we shall.

This is your new comfort food. And when you’ve made it and surprised yourself, you can torment and delight your friends and neighbours like I have. And feed them well at the same time.

Ugly Soup

Lentil and potato soup gets a flavour boost form two kinds of garlic and hearty fried potatoes.
Course Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish, Snack, Soup
Cuisine American, Canadian, Italian

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup Puy or black lentils Rinse and pick over your lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • 8-10 fresh bay leaves (or 3-6 dried)
  • 2 lbs. Yukon potatoes, diced
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • fine sea salt (non-iodized)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil (or fat of your choice)

Instructions
 

  • Rinse your lentils. If you're using the fancy Puy variety, they should be clean but take a look for tiny twigs nonetheless.
  • Add lentils to a pressure cooker with 3 cups of water, 4-6 fresh bay leaves and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to high heat, reduce to medium high, and cook for 10-12 minutes. The lentils will mostly retain their shape, but if they get a little mushy, that's just fine. That will help add some body to the soup.
  • Or bring the above ingredients to a boil, reduce to a simmmer and leave on the stove for an hour and a half. You choose. (Get a pressure cooker!)
  • While the lentils are cooking away, rinse then dice the potatoes.
  • Preheat a non-stick pan over medium heat. Once the pan is heated, add your oil and let it get hot before adding your potatoes. Throw them in the hot oil, sprinkle them with a tbsp of salt and turn the heat down to medium low. Leave undisturbed while potatoes develop a nice brown crust.
  • Take 6-8 cloves of garlic and slice them into thick pieces, 2 or three per clove. Drop on top of the potatoes as they cook.
  • When the lentils are done, turn off heat. Open the valve for quick release. Once it's quit sputtering, remove the lid. Check to see how much water remains. They should be almost covered but not quite. Add 1-2 cups of chicken stock, depending on how much water has evaporated from the lentils.
  • Throw in the Parmasean rind and the rest of the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer while you turn your attention back to the potatoes.
  • Using a spatula, try to flip potatoes around so that they brown all over.
  • Simmer the lentils for as long as you need to to ensure lentils are thoroughly softened. This could be as little as 5 minutes if the pressure cooker did the trick, but take whatever time you need.
  • Mince 4-8 cloves—I'm serious!—and add them to the soup.
  • Once the potatoes are thoroughly browned, add them to the soup. Stir in grated Parmasean. Taste for salt.
  • Top with more cheese, Italian parsley if you can find it, fresh pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Like most soups, this is better the next day, but it is delicious and fortifying straight from the pot. Stay warm, my friends!
Keyword #lentilpotatosoup, #lentilsoup, #lotsagarlic

Pumpkin Coconut Soup

This is less of a pumpkin-spice recipe and more of a pumpkin-herb recipe. I started by wanting to use up leftover Thanksgiving pie pumpkins, so I went to a Bon Appetit recipe that caught my eye. It used butternut squash and coconut milk, but a squash is a squash is a squash. Use whatever you have—I certainly felt free to. And that’s what good home cooking is: using up what’s at hand while making it taste delightful.

The Bon Appetit recipe used garlic and ginger as the main sources of flavour, adding a little heat with chili flakes and cilantro. All well and good, but I needed more from my soup. If I’m to be drinking/eating healthy vegan things, they must have maximal flavour, dammit.

An upgrade was easily achieved with the addition of some chopped lemongrass and fresh lime leaves, simmered in with the pumpkin as it cooks. This made a huge difference. My pumpkin soup went from having a nice taste to an excellent one. It meant putting the lemongrass in some cheesecloth, then extracting it along with the lime leaves right before blending, rather than just dumping the whole pot into the blender. A tiny effort well worth the exertion.

This soup is warm, healthy, and cheerful as can be. If you want to reduce the fat content, use light coconut milk. I made a big batch that was a perfect host to leftover grilled shrimp, some sautéed kale from the night before, some quickly cooked green beans. I topped it with the cilantro leaves and toasted pumpkin seeds, and of course peanuts and toasted coconut would be lovely as well. Cilantro haters, you know very well that you can and will skip that particular ingredient. You know who you are.

Pumpkin Coconut Soup

A warming, filling, herbacous soup that is as healthy as it is tasty.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Course Appetizer, Soup
Cuisine Southeast Asian
Servings 8

Ingredients
  

  • 1 large onion
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 2-3 Thai chilis (optional)
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, bottom parts only
  • 4-6 lime leaves
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 tbsp grapeseed oil or coconut oil
  • 3 tsp kosher salt
  • 4-4½ lbs pumpkin
  • 1 small bunch cilantro

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 350°.
  • Preheat a thick-bottomed pot on medium heat, adding the oil once it's warm. Dice the onion and sauté until translucent. Turn down to medium low.
  • Mince garlic and chilis, if using. Grate ginger, wash and chop cilantro stems. Sauté everything together on medium low.
  • Peel and seed the pumpkins, or whatever squash you have. A thinner skinned squash willl yield more flesh, so you could start with 3½-4 lbs. Chop into roughly evenly sized cubes and add to the pot.
  • Add water just to cover, then add coconut milk and 2 tsp of salt.
  • Chop lemongrass and wrap in cheesecloth or put into a dispoable tea bag and add to soup. Add lime leaves and salt.
  • Bring to a boil then turn heat down and simmer until pumpkin is soft, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool a bit.
  • Rinse seeds, discarding most of the stringy flesh. Don't worry if you don't get it all, it will dry up and separate more easily after baking. Cover seeds in 1 tbsp of oil and 1 tsp of salt.
  • Spread on a parchment-lined rimmed cookie sheet. Toast for 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Toast until golden brown.
  • Come back to your soup. Just before you pour it in the blender, remove the lemongrass and lime leaves. Fill the blender no more than 2/3 full, and make sure there's a little ventilation if it's still steaming hot. You do not want your kitchen to look like a Jackson Pollack painintg.
  • Blend until silky smooth. Pour back into the pot to reheat before serving. Top with cilantro, pumpkin seeds, and unsweetened toasted coconut, if you have it. Voilà!
Keyword #coconut, #lemongrass, #pumpkin, #pumpkinsoup, ginger