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.
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.