Lentil Soup with Winter Greens, Cumin & Cilantro
Truth be told, I don’t diet. In fact, I have no use for diets. Every time the New Year rolls around, it seems like everyone is making resolutions to lose weight, go on this diet or that diet, exercise more, etc. Exercising more, maintaining a healthy weight, all that is great — and I’m definitely on board with those ideas — but the whole mindset that I see many people take towards eating unhealthy foods, then dieting to lose weight, then going back to eating unhealthy foods again just seems unmaintainable to me. Rather than follow wacky rules (eat just grapefruit! don’t eat carbs! drink a shake for all of your meals! make sweets and baked goods but use all sugar substitutes!) that seem kind of arbitrary and temporary, I think it’s more important to eat a healthy diet year round, focusing on whole foods, lots of vegetables/fruits/whole grains/beans & legumes, with meats and sweets in moderation. I’m certainly not perfect (the sweets category get me every time), but I do try to follow this approach as best I can, savor my food, and relish the different dishes we can make each season.
I could go on and on, but instead I’ll just say that with these thoughts in mind, I have been looking forward to getting back to our “normal” way of eating after the holiday glut (do any of you feel kind of sugared out at the end of December? I definitely do!) I had been looking for a good lentil soup for awhile, and this one is currently at the top of the roster – it’s delicious, nutritious, bright-tasting, and just the antidote to some of late December’s excesses.
My current favorite soup cookbook is Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, and thumbing through it earlier this fall, this recipe caught my eye. It sounded just a little bit different than the normal lentil-mirepoix formula, or lentil-sausage-mirepoix. It has a bit of ground cumin in it; not a large enough quantity to be particularly discernible as a distinct element in the finished soup, but just enough to give a nice earthy, warm quality to the soup. A bit of chopped cilantro adds a little brightness, too. But beyond those flavorings, there were two important things that immediately drew me in: (a) it calls for a mix of three different kinds of lentils (or any combination of lentils that you have) – and I’m such a sucker for the pretty little variations in shape and texture…
beluga, brown, and french lentils
…and (b), it’s got winter greens! Talk about nutritious and delicious. I am a firm believer in the adage “we eat with our eyes first,” and the different shaped and colored lentils in this soup, combined with the pop of greens, makes for a prettier presentation than your typical brown-on-brown lentil soup. I’ve used both kale and swiss chard when I’ve made this recipe, and collard greens or spinach would be good, as well. This weekend, I used some of the lovely curly kale we got in this week’s winter CSA share box (yes! we’re getting a winter share! Same farms as before, and the variety is delightful. Each week brings a myriad of root vegetables, assorted winter squash, onions, garlic, and some type of winter greens, as well as occasional bags of dried organic beans from Cayuga Pure Organics. I’ll say it again, I love where we live.)
The original recipe involved cooking the lentils, onion/garlic/cumin, and greens separately, then combining them at the end. I tried that the first time, but subsequent times I’ve made this, I’ve found that I prefer cooking everything together in the same pot. The flavors all meld together, plus, it makes for less dishes to clean afterward. Not bad!
let the cumin get toasty with the sauteeing onions
in go the lentils and aromatics
As Deborah suggests, I like to serve the soup with a dollop of plain yogurt and an additional sprinkle of cilantro. The mild acidity in the yogurt brightens up the soup nicely; if you don’t have yogurt, you could use some thinned-out sour cream, or just a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice. Oh, and serving it with a slice of whole-grain bread is definitely recommended!
Lentil Soup with Winter Greens, Cumin & Cilantro
Adapted from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen
The original recipe involved cooking the lentils, onion/garlic, and greens separately, then combining them at the end. I prefer to cook them all in the same pot, and I’ve adjusted the instructions and timing accordingly.
1 1/4 cups mixed lentils – brown, small French Le Puy lentils, black Beluga lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
2 bay leaves
4 cilantro stems + 4 parsley stems, tied together in a bundle
7 cups water
6 leaves (about 4 cups) winter greens, chopped – kale, chard, collards, or spinach
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
sea salt and black pepper, to taste
plain yogurt, for serving
Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a stock pot or large saucepan, then add the diced onion and ground cumin. Cook until the onion is softened, then add the garlic and coarse salt and cook another minute. Add the lentils, 7 cups water, 2 bay leaves, and the cilantro and parsley stems. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid from the pot and add the chopped greens. Simmer, uncovered, for an additional 10 minutes, or until the greens are as tender as you like them. Stir in the chopped cilantro, and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Serve in a bowl with a dollop of plain yogurt and a sprinkling of additional chopped cilantro, or with some sour cream thinned out with a little milk, or with a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice.
Makes 6 servings; can easily be doubled.