Lentil Soup: Quick, versatile, healthy and good

by Terry B on January 16, 2008

Lentils and kale come together quickly in a hearty, healthy soup. Recipe below.

We’re big on beans at Blue Kitchen. Tuscan beans, chili, Cajun red beans and rice, Brazilian rice and beans—beans are versatile, delicious and packed with protein, fiber and a lot more stuff that’s really good for you. And for many recipes, canned beans are just fine, making them quick and convenient.

But when recipes call for dried beans, everything slows waaaay down. They need to soak, often overnight. And they need to cook, often for hours.

That’s where lentils shine. These tiny dried legumes pack the same nutritious punch beans do [according to Magic Foods: Simple Changes You Can Make to Supercharge Your Energy, Lose Weight and Live Longer, eating lentils twice a week can even reduce the risk of breast cancer in women], and they can go from dried to cooked and tender in as little as 20 minutes, without presoaking [at least the brown lentils common in the U.S. do—smaller, firmer French green lentils take a bit longer, 30 to 45 minutes or so].

They can go long too. Cooking a soup that takes 45 minutes? An hour? Longer? Even quicker cooking brown lentils will hold their shape and not cook to mush. [The red and yellow lentils commonly used in Middle Eastern or Indian cooking are skinless and intended to cook into more of a purée.]

They have a great taste, more delicate than beans, and a pleasant mouthfeel. Because they’re packed with fiber—16 grams in a cup of cooked lentils, much of it soluble fiber—they satisfy hunger for a good long time. And because they’re rich in protein [18 grams in that same cooked cup], they’re often used as a meat substitute. It’s little wonder that these little wonders are a staple in the Middle East and India. They’re also popular in parts of Europe and gaining in popularity here in the U.S.

Lentils are wonderfully versatile. They can be used in soups, stews, salads and the fabulously spicy Indian dish, dal. A quick check of epicurious.com turned up 47 results for lentil soups alone. Right here at Blue Kitchen, you’ll find a recipe for Curried Lentil Soup with Chicken.

This lentil soup balances the delicate taste of lentils with the mildly cabbagey bite of kale, another good-for-you powerhouse. A cruciferous vegetable, kale delivers vitamins A and C, folic acid, calcium and iron. It also contains cancer-fighting antioxidants.

And perhaps best of all in this fresh-produce-starved season, kale is actually best during the winter months; it greatly prefers cooler climes for growing.

Oh, and this hearty, delicious soup also contains some smoked sausage for even more stick-to-your-ribs goodness. We’re also big on meat at Blue Kitchen.

This recipe came together as quite a few do for me these days. I had a hankering for a particular flavor or ingredient—lentil soup in this case—and looked at a couple of recipes [including my own curried one] to get some basic foundations. Then I put the books away and started improvising.

Lentil Soup with Kale and Sausage
2 to 3 main course servings [see Kitchen Notes]

6 ounces smoked sausage or kielbasa, sliced in half lengthwise, then cut into 1/2-inch thick slices [I used a lowfat version—see Kitchen Notes]
1 tablespoon or so olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced on a diagonal
1 rib celery, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
1 cup dried lentils [brown or green], rinsed
1 tablespoon Cajun or Creole seasonings
2 bay leaves
5 cups torn kale leaves—discard thick center stems [see Kitchen Notes]
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat a large pot or dutch oven over a medium flame. Add oil and sausage. Brown sausage slightly, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Transfer sausage to bowl with slotted spoon. If the sausage produced more fat in the pot, pour off all but a tablespoon or so. The low-fat sausage I used produced no appreciable extra fat.

Add onion, carrots and celery to pot. Sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring often—you don’t want to brown the vegetables, just sweat them. Add garlic and cook for about 45 seconds. Add broth, water, lentils, Cajun seasonings and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in kale. It will quickly wilt and reduce in volume, so don’t panic. Return sausage to pot and simmer for about 5 minutes, until kale is tender and flavors have swapped around. Adjust seasonings, discard bay leaves and serve, with or without a crusty bread.

Kitchen Notes

How many servings? I didn’t serve any bread with the soup when we had it for dinner, so after we’d each had a satisfying meal, there was a generous lunch portion left over. With a nice baguette, this would have been plenty for dinner for three.

Choosing a sausage. One recipe that got me started called for a nice smoky andouille sausage; I indeed looked for some, ready to deal with the fat for the Cajun/Creole/New Orleans deliciousness it would deliver. Failing to find any [and yes, it's widely available in Chicago, just not anywhere my travels took me that day], I opted for a lowfat turkey sausage and counted on the Cajun seasoning and bay leaves to spice things up. An added advantage to this approach? When I took the leftovers from the fridge for lunch, there was no congealed fat on the top. As in none. So I felt I hadn’t totally undermined the healthiness of the lentils and kale.

Kale substitutes? Speaking of kale, if you can’t find it, spinach, baby spinach or Swiss chard make great substitutes, delivering similar flavors and health benefits.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen, 1/16/2008

Bob Dylan, when unplugged just meant acoustic. Before he “shocked” the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he was making electrifying music with just a guitar, a harmonica and his iconic voice, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?

What’s so funny about beef and good health? An entertaining look at the health benefits of red meat, courtesy of YouTube and Australian TV, at WTF? Random food for thought.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Katerina January 16, 2008 at 4:56 am

This looks really good! I totally had a craving for lentil soup the other day and totally screwed it up – yours looks like quite a success!

holybasil January 16, 2008 at 5:17 am

I love your photo with the ingredients next to the bowl. I really like the addition of kale here. You’ve taken a nutritious legume and added kale – genius! And thank you for the nutritional info – I had no idea lentils had 16 grams of fiber per cup. Sweet.

one food guy January 16, 2008 at 1:56 pm

I’m on a lentil kick right now. I saw a great recipe on 101 Cookbooks that I made recently, here it is http://onefoodguy.blogspot.com/2008/01/101-lentils.html

Terry B January 16, 2008 at 5:19 pm

Katerina—I read your post. The disaster was clearly unrelated to the recipe. But as you can see here, lentils don’t require a slow cooker recipe anyway—they cook up nice and fast, making them perfect for a weeknight dinner.

Thanks, holybasil! I’m still jonesing for those beautiful, lemony mussels you posted.

one food guy—I love the dollop of saffron yogurt on the top of your lentil soup!

Carolyn January 16, 2008 at 7:07 pm

I love lentils, too. When I first discovered them, I chucked a handful into a pot of rice while it cooked. Later I began chucking them into anything and everything. What could a little bit of lentils hurt? Who knew about the 16 g of fiber.

Beautiful, beautiful picture.

Toni January 16, 2008 at 9:07 pm

I made a lentil soup last week, but it didn’t look this good, so I skipped the photo and the post about it. I adore the addition of kale! (And your photo, of course!)

Lydia January 16, 2008 at 11:10 pm

Delicious! I love making lentil soup with sausage — turkey sausage is my go-to. My new thing is to toss in a bit of chopped preserved lemon rind. Not a lot — just enough to give that “what’s in here” taste.

marie January 17, 2008 at 3:52 pm

Your lentil soup looks delicious, this is something I make quite often during the winter with hot Italian turkey sausage. I never realized there was 16 grams of fiber in 1 cup! It’s so good, and good for you!!

Hillary January 17, 2008 at 4:28 pm

Very hearty looking soup! Lentils make great winter soups. You should submit this recipe to our Hearty Soup Contest that ends next week!

Terry B January 17, 2008 at 5:14 pm

Carolyn—Lentils in rice? What an interesting idea! Maybe add some onions too, as in Patricia’s Brazilian rice.

Toni—I’d be curious to know how you made your soup. As I said, lentils are quite versatile.

Lydia—That “what’s in here” taste is exactly what I’m often trying to achieve. Something unexpected, but not jarringly so—just nicely mysterious.

marie—A little hot Italian sausage would be perfect in this, especially with the near zero temperatures headed our way this weekend here in Chicago.

Hillary—I may just have to enter that contest. Thanks for the tip!

katie January 17, 2008 at 6:22 pm

Great looking soup. I love lentils…I often toss in some red ones just to use as a thickener for regular lentil soup…or other stuff… don’t tell mon mari…

Terry B January 17, 2008 at 6:56 pm

Katie—Lentils as a thickening agent? Perfect! You can also throw a couple of ladlesful of the brown or green lentils you’ve already got cooking into a food processor and puree them to thicken your soup. And don’t worry—your secret’s safe with me!

ann January 17, 2008 at 8:24 pm

The new camera looks like it’s fitting in well! That’s a pretty picture!

I love lentil soup, but I’ve finally come to the conclusion that mine will just never be as amazing as the stuff from the Nordic deli around the corner that’s $5 for enough soup to feed the two of us for two nights. I have no idea how they do it, but god bless them for doing so!

Beth January 18, 2008 at 12:37 am

Hi Terry,

Thanks for stopping by my blog! I’ll have to try your chili recipe sometime…I’m intrigued by the use of red wine. Your soup has inspired me to try and find lentils in Japan. I miss having lentils (and quinoa) readily available!

Ronnie Ann January 18, 2008 at 3:09 am

A mahvelous photo, my friend. Just had to leave my two cents because I love this recipe so much. Sooo good on a cold winter’s day. Looking at the pic again, I want some right this minute. Have to confess that I start with Amy’s lentil soup (shhh!) and adjust for that because I am much too lazy and just a tiny bit stubborn. But it’s still oh so yummy!

Christina January 18, 2008 at 4:47 am

You had me at smoked sausage. Lentils—good. All the aromatics—good. Kale—great. Smoked sausage? Well, that’s just heaven!

Terry B January 18, 2008 at 4:24 pm

ann—Thanks! [Everyone, ann and I have each fairly recently gotten new cameras---we're both having a blast with them.] Five bucks for two meals for two is tough to beat.

Beth—I’ll be back to your blog. The adventures of negotiating another country’s grocery stores and markets can be daunting but fun.

Ronnie Ann—Thanks! Lentil soup is just good and good for you, however you get there—take-out, doctoring store bought, scratch… it all works.

Christina—Smoked sausage is like bacon. There’s not much it can’t improve.

Dr. Benabio January 19, 2008 at 1:23 am

Lentil soup is a go-to comfort meal in our house, and yours looks deliciously warm and satisfying.

Dr. Benabio January 19, 2008 at 1:24 am

Oops, Dr. Benabio is Susan from Food Blogga. Looks like Jeff was logged in last. He would love this soup too, though.

Terry B January 19, 2008 at 2:40 am

Hi, Susan from Food “Blogga”! Thanks!

Beth January 31, 2008 at 8:22 am

Hi Terry – I just wanted to let you know that I found lentils in Tokyo! Granted, they’re not as cheap as they are in the U.S., but I was surprised to find them. Thanks for the inspiration! :)

Terry B January 31, 2008 at 4:06 pm

Congratulations on finding the lentils! One of the great things about food blogs is how we all inspire one another to try new things. For instance, I’m quite intrigued by the rosemary and cornmeal-crusted rustic pizza you posted the other day. From Japan, no less!

FlaNboyant Eats February 4, 2008 at 2:31 am

Cool site. I swear :) Did you see the Iron Chef where the secret ingredient was lentil? It was so cool to see what you can make out of it. There was one dish in particular that was interesting: a vinagrette. We cook with lentils a lot. I’m looking to sharing my lentil bean soup soon.

I’ll be back to visit!

Douglas Duckworth February 12, 2008 at 2:35 am

Would this work with Chorizo?

Terry B February 14, 2008 at 2:54 am

FlaNboyant—Thanks! I’m guessing the vinaigrette was a cold, salady kind of dish.

Douglas—I would encourage you to experiment—with chorizo, chicken, ham…

Rhiannon March 5, 2008 at 10:09 pm

You have an utterly beautiful blog – I love the pictures, the layout – really impressed!

carrie December 31, 2013 at 9:29 pm

I love this soup! You have no idea how long I’ve been searching for a decent lentil soup recipe. This is a keeper.

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