It’s January, which means so many people are turning to things like lentil soups to help with new year’s resolutions. But that’s not what I’m doing (or recommending). This lentil soup is here because I spent December tweaking it and perfecting it. It’s here because after trying so, so many boring and lackluster lentil soups, this one tastes good. It has flavor, brightness, and engages you in your dinner, rather than leaving you limping through a meal you’re not all that excited about. And, it has bacon.
The inspiration for this soup started with this recipe, out of Vivian Howard’s Deep Run Roots cookbook. While I’ve adjusted the recipe below, the raw material of the lentil soup was good enough to prompt me to take a deeper look at the book and recipes, based on southern cooking out of North Carolina. Just starting in on this, but more to come (I hope).
One of the adjustments I made is pretty important: I added a source of acid via the apple cider vinegar, instead of using actual apple. It contributes a lot in terms of flavor and nuance. I also used my immersion blender to puree the soup after cooking to help create a smooth, uniform texture, before sprinkling with bacon pieces. I serve this with a side of oven-toasted buttered garlic bread, and it’s delicious.
Lentil Soup with Bacon
4-6 slices of thick-cut bacon
1 onion, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup French green lentils (uncooked)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1. Cook the bacon in a large pot (I used my Dutch oven; you’ll want it large enough to contain the entire soup recipe) until mostly crispy. Remove from pan and set aside on a plate lined with paper towels. When cool, chop the bacon into small pieces.
2. Leave the bacon grease in the pot, turn the heat to medium. Add the onion, shallot, celery, garlic, and ginger and cook for about 10 minutes until soft. Stir in the cumin, lentils, vinegar and stock. Bring the mixture to a brisk simmer and then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Using a blender or immersion blender, puree to contents of the pot until mostly smooth (some texture is OK, there is some variation in individual preference here). Season with rosemary and add water to thin the soup (I generally use about 2 cups – try adding in half- or full-cup increments to avoid watering the soup down too much).
4. Portion the soup into individual bowls with a ladle. Sprinkle with the chopped bacon and serve.