When you want to get a home-cooked meal on the table fast, it helps to have a recipe that requires minimal cooking time — or have a stash of made-ahead meals in the freezer. Making a big pot of quick-fix soup and freezing the leftovers for a quick future weeknight meal or two gives you the best of both.
Many soups will freeze and reheat well (be careful of soups with noodles, rice or potatoes, which can get mushy), but lentil soup is a real winner. Lentils and other legumes (beans) are inexpensive and packed with fiber and protein, but lentils have three extra advantages. First, they don’t need presoaking. Second, they cook quickly. Third, lentils don’t contain sulfur, so they don’t cause the intestinal gas that beans can.
The beauty of this lentil-soup recipe is that you can make it extra hearty and higher in protein by adding ground turkey. To make it vegan, skip the turkey and use vegetable broth. If you’ve ever had “boring” lentil soup, never fear — the broth, sautéed vegetables, tomatoes and herbs combine to build fine flavor. Lentils lose flavor with age, so don’t let them sit in your pantry forever.
My top lentil choice for this soup is the French green lentil (lentilles du Puy), because they hold their shape nicely when cooked, but you can also go with black “beluga” lentils, which also hold their shape, or with brown or regular green lentils.
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2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces ground turkey (optional)
1 large onion, chopped finely
2 carrots, peeled and chopped finely
1 stalk celery, chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
4 cups fresh spinach or kale, roughly chopped or torn (optional)
1. Heat olive oil in Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. When hot, add ground turkey (if using) and cook, breaking meat up with a wooden spoon, until starting to brown, about 5-6 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add carrots, celery and garlic and continue to cook and stir until the carrots turn bright orange, about 2 minutes.
2. Stir in tomatoes, bay leaves and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the lentils, salt and pepper. Cover the pot, turn heat down to medium low, and cook for 8-10 more minutes. The vegetables will be softer and the lentils will have darkened.
3. Remove the cover, add the broth and water, and turn the heat up to high. When the soup begins to come to a boil, turn the heat down to low. Simmer uncovered until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape, about 30-35 minutes. If adding the optional greens, stir them into the pot when you have about 5 minutes cooking time left. They will wilt and reduce in volume quickly. Remove bay leaves, and serve.
4. If you are freezing some (or all) of the soup, cool it completely first. Placing the soup in a bowl set over another bowl filled with ice water will help cool hot soup quickly and prevent bacterial growth. Transfer the cooled soup to small freezer containers, which will allow the soup to freeze quickly. Thaw frozen soup in the refrigerator before reheating in a saucepan. Keep in mind that freezing isn’t forever — the quality of frozen soups start to decline after about three months.
Carrie Dennett writes about nutrition for The Seattle Times; her blog is nutritionbycarrie.com.