Quick-cooking red lentils are a favorite for soups, going from dried-in-the-pantry to tender in 10 or 15 minutes and forming an economical, healthy base full of fiber and protein. Though my very favorite lentils are the du Puy variety (otherwise known as French green lentils), because of their subtle peppery flavor and the way they hold their shape after cooking, they also take awhile to cook. And in a soup, it's not all that important that they stay intact: the lentils that break up during cooking just add to the soup's body.
Lentils can be rather plain-tasting, so it's key to use assertive flavors when cooking them or the result will be an earthy, but plain-tasting sludge. This recipe, adapted from a Bulgarian soup a friend served me recently, relies on a shot of paprika and fresh thyme, which keep the chunky, tomato-y broth interesting. I added a little cayenne as well to raise the stakes. It's a warming soup to guiltlessly fill up on.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 small yellow onions, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 can (14 ounces) diced or whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Rinse the lentils well and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft and golden.
Add the tomato paste, paprika, and cayenne, and cook an additional two minutes, stirring often. Add the lentils, stock, bay leaf, tomatoes and a pinch of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then simmer 10-15 minutes, until the lentils are soft and the tomatoes have broken up. I like to cut them up with a pair of scissors.
Add the fresh thyme, reserving some for garnish, and simmer for an additional 1-2 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve with fresh thyme as garnish.