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Yesterday the dogs and I were stuck in the kitchen (snow’s got us here again)…

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as our staircase was being overhauled.  Out with the ?-year old carpet, in with hardwood, in with new in-code metal railing.  All in all, it’s a two week project and worth every minute of it. Just to think I never have to try and clean carpet on stairs again. (Whose idea was carpet anyway?)

I had a bunch of reading and research to do for my upcoming “Cook and Easy 3-Course Meal for Valentine’s Day” Cooking Class (spaces available 2/5; 5-7pm) and settled on a slow cooker meal to make life simple.  I threw it together and had the rest of the day to do as I pleased.  I do not use the slow cooker for cooking very often, though when I do I have no idea why I don’t pull it out more often. (The words “pull it out” give you a clue.)  I use it regularly to keep things hot at holidays or to take meals to potlucks. If you’re a big slow cooker fan, you should visit Kalyn Denny’s Slow Cooker From Scratch blog for lots of wonderful recipes from around the web–or buy America’s Test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Revolution- it’s just what it says and is worth the $21 investment; used copies are available, too.

But yesterday I was thrilled to have the wafting happiness flying through the house until we were ready to eat.  I dished it up we and settled in at the table with a Willie Nelson album to keep us company.  (This would be the only country & western album I own and I own it just for variety.)  I think Willie fit in really well with lentil soup, though I was pretty relieved when The King’s Singers took over.  A glass of wine, some hot rolls, and a bit of Cotswold cheese were all we needed.

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I make a bunch of different lentil soups and love them particularly because lentils are a food that crosses cultures worldwide, are adaptable, flexible, and are easily stored and freezable. (think lunches) The dry lentils themselves keep on the shelf a year. Frozen lentil soup keeps up to six months in the freezer.

Lentil soup is mentioned in the Bible: In Genesis 25:30-34, Esau is prepared to give up his birthright for a pot of fragrant red lentil soup (a “mess of pottage” in some versions) being cooked by his brother, Jacob. In Jewish tradition, lentil soup has been served at times of mourning, the roundness of the lentil representative of a complete cycle of life.[2]

Lentil soup may include vegetables such as carrotspotatoesceleryparsleytomato, and onion. Common flavorings are garlicbay leafcuminolive oil, and vinegar. It is sometimes garnished with croutons or chopped herbs or butterolive oilcream or yogurt. Indian lentil soup contains a variety of aromatic spices. In the Middle East, the addition of lemon juice gives a pungent tang and cuts the heaviness of the dish.[3] In Egypt, the soup is commonly puréed before serving, and is traditionally consumed in the winter.[4][5]

(above:Courtesy wikipedia with great thanks.)

I keep all colors of lentils in my pantry, put a curried and spicy Red Lentil Soup in my soup cookbook— a tester’s favorite right out of the Bible — and also adore anything made with green French Le Puy lentils for spring and summer lentil salads, as well as soups.  (The last link takes you to a green lentil post by one of my favorite Parisian cook-writers, David Lebovitz.)  Here’s a link to a luscious lentil soup you might try from myjewishlearning.com. My fellow blogger at Just a Girl from Aamchi Mumbai (in Australia) often writes about lentils — or dal; check out her Mixed Dal post –made in the pressure cooker — here.  By the way, “dal” is pronounced just like the American “doll.” Ethiopian Lentil Stew:  intrigued?  Find the recipe here from Alemtshaye Yigezu via epicurious dot com. If you want to make lentils from nearly any part of the globe, you can probably find a way to do it.

Want to know where and how lentils are grown in the U.S.?  Click here.

(below:  Rosie keeping herself happy as only she can do.)

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Try this:

SLOW COOKER LEMONY BACON-LENTIL SOUP

While I like to cook the bacon and ham with the vegetables before putting everything in the slow cooker, you could certainly cook only the bacon and add all the rest of the ingredients into the slow cooker at once. If you’re really stuck for time and/or have only ham and no bacon, you could even add just ham and the rest of the ingredients to the slow cooker as the ham is already cooked.  If you like your soup a little thicker, take out a few cups after cooking, blend them, and return them to the pot.

  • 6 pieces bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 pound chopped cooked ham, optional
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 each, diced:  stalks celery, large carrots
  • 1 large Idaho potato, peeled, and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Handful chopped parsley
  • Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup white wine (or use 1/2 of the chicken broth below)
  • 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes (if you skip the tomatoes, add an extra cup or two of water)
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 pound brown lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones, etc
  • 2 well-washed lemons–use half cooked in the soup (remove seeds) and slice the rest to use to squeeze over the soup at the table, if desired.

Hot sauce, Grated Parmesan Cheese,  Chopped Walnuts, or Sliced Lemon for garnish, optional

◊In a large pot or deep skillet, cook bacon until crispy; add ham if using.  Spoon out some of the fat if necessary, leaving a tablespoon or two in the pot. Stir in onions, celery, carrots and potatoes; cook 5 minutes and add garlic.  Add 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper, thyme and bay leaf.  Let cook 3 minutes or so and pour in wine, cooking and stirring another few minutes until wine is reduced by half.

◊Spoon the mixture into a 6-quart crock pot and add the remaining ingredients except hot sauce.  Cook 4 -5 hours on high or 8 hours on low or until lentils and vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings.  Serve hot with hot sauce, grated Parmesan Cheese, chopped walnuts, or a squeeze of fresh lemon if desired.

To freeze: Lentil soup freezes easily and well.  Let the soup cool completely and ladle into containers with tightly-fitted lids or into freezer bags, leaving an inch or so space at the top for expansion.  Freeze for 4-6 months for best quality.

OPTIONS: 1. Cook the soup in a big soup pot on the stove?  It’ll work fine and lentil soup is very quick compared to, say, navy bean or pinto bean soups.  Once you have everything in the pot, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and let cook another 30 minutes or until everything is tender.  Add extra water or broth if the soup becomes too thick as it cooks.  2.  Want more veggies or greens?  Stir a couple of cups of chopped spinach or finely shredded kale in for the last 30-60 minutes in the slow cooker or for the last 10 minutes in a stove-top pot.

WINECôtes du Rhône (an accessible, often inexpensive French red blend featuring Syrah.)

NEED MORE? Crusty rolls and cheese or a green salad are a good accompaniment.

DESSERT:  Sliced apples and orange segments.

Lentil nutritional data from LiveStrong

A Short List of Slow Cooker Cooking Tips from Bon Appétit

IF YOU LIKE THIS, YOU MIGHT LIKE MY Curried Lentil Soup with Fresh Greens, healthy vegan fare for everyone:

 or my Turkey-Lentil Crock Pot Chili:

Sing a new song; cook some lentils and be part of the big, big world,

Alyce