‘If you have lentils in your kitchen, you have dinner. Time and time again I turn to this quick-cooking, richly flavoured legume when I’m in a quandary as to what to make…’
Wise words from food writer and author Martha Rose Shulman, a chef who excels particularly when it comes to healthy, vegetarian meals. She has a passion for Mediterranean food, and her Mediterranean Harvest cookbook is one I come back to again and again.
Like Martha, I love lentils. They are just so brilliantly versatile and easy to use – I love making dal with red lentils, and salads using French Puy lentils, for instance. I particularly love using them in soups – they are the perfect thing to sling in to add substance and bite.
A 500g packet of red lentils costs about £1 from Sainsburys, so they are a good cheap staple to have in your store cupboard. They are a good source of protein and B vitamins, are low in calories and are a good source of fibre – so they are an excellent staple in a child’s diet. My two love it, and the 7-year-old always gives it 9/10 – no word of a lie!
Personally, I find making soup very calming – it’s almost like therapy, as, having peeled and chopped my ingredients, I stand stirring, one-handed, with my wooden spoon, and the wonderful savoury smell of the soup fills the air. I think it is something to do with pausing after a busy morning, or a busy day, and making something to nourish us all. As I taste, and stir again, I look forward to sharing the soup with my husband and the children round the kitchen table. It’s the simple things in life that are sometimes the best.
Provençal Lentil and Tomato Soup
This tasty soup doesn’t require any complicated ingredients and is dead easy to make. I have adapted Martha Rose Shulman’s original recipe to make it even more straightforward, and I promise you it is completely delicious. It keeps well in the fridge, and tastes even better the next day. It is rich, flavoursome and a firm family favourite here at One-Handed HQ.
You will need:
175g red lentils, picked over and rinsed
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 litre water
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced (optional)
1 jar organic passata
1 sprig fresh thyme
Handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
What to do:
- Place the lentils in a saucepan with one of the garlic cloves and the bay leaf. Add 4/5 of the water (800ml) and bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.
- Drain the lentils through sieve placed over a bowl (i.e. reserve the cooking liquid), then rinse the lentils with cold water and set aside. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
- Mash the cooked garlic clove with the remaining two cloves in a pestle and mortar. Set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a large Le Creuset casserole, or similar heavy-bottomed pan, add the onion and celery (if using). Cook for 5–10 minutes, until soft.
- Add the passata, mashed garlic and lentils, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Then add the cooking water from the lentils, the remaining 200ml water, the thyme, the basil and season to taste.
- Bring to a simmer, cover, and then simmer gently for 30 minutes over a low heat. The lentils should be tender but intact, the broth fragrant. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Serve as is, or with some grated Parmesan on top, with crusty bread.