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

Warm Duck and Lentil Salad

I’m not even going to pretend that this is healthy, although honestly, it could be worse. Once you try it, you won’t care in the slightest. Picnics, family BBQs, feeding whosoever is in your bubble, or dropping it off to those with whom you cannot break bread at present. This is hearty, rich, decadent and yet still filled with healthful legumes. I won’t say it’s uncomplicated either—it’s full of several little steps­, which can be broken up and tackled in stages. 

Why is this a salad, rather than a warm side dish? Mainly because I use a vinaigrette to dress the lentils. But instead of oil, duck fat is warmed up and used along with the reduced pan juices. I got this idea from the brilliant Brad Long, chef and owner of Café Belong and Belong Catering, and sometimes star of the Food Network smash hit Restaurant Makeover. His Brown Butter Vinaigrette, born out of necessity, provided me with the understanding that different types of fat can stand in for oil in a salad dressing. Duck fat is delectable in any recipe. Here it is paired with the vinegar from my Smoky Onion Pickles, and the pickled onions, paired with a sweet mustard. Fresh tarragon makes this feel like the most French thing you’ll eat all summer, and well into the fall.

I made use of pre-made duck confit, but roast duck legs would work perfectly here. As long as the skin is crisped and thrown in with the shredded meat, you should have plenty of hearty flavour to boost your lentils, with or without pan juices. 

The other cool trick I learned this week is that sous vide lentils are their own thing entirely. I usually put puy lentils in the pressure cooker, not caring if some become mushy. Preferring it in fact, for lentil and potato soup. I’ve tried cooking them carefully on the stovetop to preserve them in distinct and unbroken form, only to find that the age of the lentils can create wildly varying results. And they require an exceedingly watchful eye. Sous vide lentils, on the other hand, can be left for hours without any fear of disintegration, and leaving you free to turn your attention to other matters. You can cook them in a Ziplock bag, but I cooked them in mason jars.

This salad can be easily doubled for a crowd. Makes a nice side dish or a main with a wholegrain sourdough and an endive salad. 

Warm Duck and Lentil Salad

Hearty, rich, decadent and yet still filled with healthful lentils, this salad uses pickled onions and crispy duck for a hefty wallop of umami.
Course Main Course, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Canadian, French
Servings 8 people

Equipment

  • Sous vide device (optional)

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup puy or beluga lentils
  • 2 ½ cups water 
  • 2-4 fresh bay leaves
  • ¼ tsp sea salt 
  • 1 whole leg of duck confit (or 2 roast duck legs)
  • 1 cup tarragon, washed and chopped 
  • 1 cup fresh parsley
  • ½ cup smoky onion pickles 
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp salted capers
  • ½ cup vinegar (from the onion pickles, or white wine or champagne vinegar)
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard  
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ½ cup duck fat, warmed
  • ¼ cup pan juices 
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 pats duck fois gras (optional)

Instructions
 

  • Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve, then place them in jars or bags with water, bay leaves and salt. Set sous vide devise to 190ºF (87ºC) and cook for 90 minutes, or up to 3 hours. Open and let cool. Drain and set aside. 
  • Alternatively, bring lentils, salt, bay leaves to a boil in 4 cups of water, then simmer until tender, 25-30 minutes.
  • Place hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast at 350ºF for 12-15 minutes. Let cool. Rub off most of the skins, then chop roughly with a knife or pulse in a food processor until roughly ground. Set aside.
  • Remove the duck from its bag, pouring the juices into a small pan. Bring juices to a boil, then reduce over medium heat until you have about ¼ cup. 
  • Reheat duck in a cast iron frying pan, browning and crisping the skin. Remove the skin and crisp it on all sides. Melt any fat under the skin. Reserve ½ cup of the fat.
  • Remove duck to a cutting board, let cool slightly. Shred with hands. 
  • Chop onion pickles (use fresh mild onions or shallots if you don’t have the onion pickles) into a fine mince. Chop tarragon and parsley, then throw all three into a bowl with the lentils. 
  • Make the vinaigrette: put the vinegar, garlic cloves, capers, mustard, salt and pepper together in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Pour over the lentils, onions and herbs. Warm up the duck fat in the pan. Toss together thoroughly. 
  • Add half of the hazelnuts and the duck meat and skin, and chopped fois gras, if using, and toss again. Top with remaining hazelnuts and a few sprigs of tarragon. 

Notes

You can use your own sous vide duck, buy it, or roast a couple of duck legs to use instead. 
If you happen to find duck foes gras, adding it in will take this dish from decadent to doubly delicious. 
Keyword #duck, #lentils, #salad