So many slow cooker recipes indicate a “dump and cook” method, but then taste like that’s exactly what you did. (I’m not eating any food from a recipe that includes the word “dump”!) We all wish this simple cooking method worked in just such a way–especially during the hot summer months. In truth, many meals need a bit of pre-sautéing or browning before that long simmer or they are, to my palate, steamed to death and all the same color–the very reason some good cooks tell me they tried a slow cooker once and gave it away soon thereafter.
below: Colorado yard work is unending and often unproductive. Totally new grass last year produced an unending plethora of dandelions to clip, dig, or pull instead of the much-hoped for all-grass lawn. Luckily the view from the ground includes a few local deer; look closely.
This easy, inexpensive recipe, however, is different. Not only is it not the same old cold summer soup like gazpacho or Vichyssoise (cold potato leek soup), but it’s so simple that “Shop, Chop, and Drop” is my mantra for it. If you’ve one night grilled a big ham steak or two for dinner–or some kielbasa– think about some lentil soup for the next day’s meal and lunches. (Or just buy half pound ham at the deli and dice it up.) I know, it sounds like fall, but we needn’t or can’t grill every summer night and the slow cooker eliminates kitchen heat, right?
Monday night’s steak salad with frizzled shallots, grilled Brussels sprouts, sweet potato chips, and more, with homemade blue cheese dressing:
A couple of quarts of a legume-based meal in the freezer would hurt no one and you get to skip cooking one night next week or take some to a friend who needs a meal. The leftover ham or kielbasa might be just enough for the soup and, truly, it’ll make with a little less or a little more meat. You can throw it all together in the pot, turn it to HIGH, and run your errands, go to the movies, sit on the deck with a pitcher of iced tea and a sleazy novel, or –as above–work in the yard. In 4 hours, there’s a little something waiting for you in the kitchen. I call it dinner, however few bucks it takes to make it and however few calories it costs to eat it. It helps to know it’s healthy, too. Think potassium, protein, fiber, vitamin A…and try this:
SUMMER SLOW COOKER HAM + LENTIL SHOP, CHOP, AND DROP SOUP
This soup is forgiving, so swap out vegetables or use less/more, if need be. A can of chopped tomatoes could take the place of the water or wine or you could use chopped fennel or zucchini (add zucchini during last hour of cooking), for instance. Do keep the proportions of liquid to lentils, however, to make sure the soup cooks and has enough broth. If you have a food processor, consider chopping all of the fresh vegetables except the potato in it first to make this even easier and faster. A little hot sauce on the table will keep spicy eaters happy.
- 1 pound green or brown lentils, rinsed well
- 1/2 pound lean ham (cooked), diced (about 1 1/4 cups)–can sub cooked diced kielbasa
- 1 large onion, small dice
- 3 each: stalks of celery and large carrots, trimmed small dice — (1/4″-1/2″ pieces)
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 large potato or sweet potato, peeled and small dice- (1/4″-1/2″ pieces)
- 1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence (or sub half dried thyme, half dried basil)
- 1 bay leaf
- Handful minced fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Pinch of crushed red pepper, optional
- 5 cups (40 ounces) water
- 4 cups chicken broth (1 quart/32 ounces), low sodium
- 1 cup red wine — can sub water or broth
- Extra virgin olive oil or Balsamic vinegar, for garnish (optional)
- Peels of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnish (optional)
- Hot sauce–on the table (optional)
Mix all ingredients except garnishes (lentils-red wine) in a 6-quart slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot drizzled with extra virgin olive oil or vinegar and with the Parmigiano-Reggiano, as desired. Pass the hot sauce at the table.
COOK’S NOTE: Some people like their lentil soup puréed. If you’re one of those, be my guest. You can also consider removing a few cups and puréeing those separately, returning them to the pot for a smoother, but not totally puréed version.
WINE: If it’s not too hot, or even if it is, pour a barely chilled red Rhône for this soup. Want an red American Rhône-style wine? For a splurge, look at bottles from the tasty wineries around Paso Robles, California, such as Tablas Creek or Halter Ranch.
below: Grenache is one of the grapes typically blended into a red Rhône wine. Barrel here at Tablas Creek, taken on our visit in 2014
DESSERT: Great night to splurge on a little ice cream.
UPCOMING ON MORE TIME: Kids Cook: “Make Your Own Granola!”
below: budding chefs Alaena and Josiah in my kitchen yesterday