Eat for Eight Bucks: Lentil Soup

[Photograph: Robin Bellinger]

Shopping List

1 onion: $0.50
3 carrots: $0.75
Lentils: $1.25
Baguette: $2.00

Pantry items: Olive oil, garlic, dried thyme, tomato paste, salt, pepper, red wine vinegar.

Total cost (for 4 portions): $4.50

After last week's simple buttery pasta controversy, I hesitate to post my no-nonsense lentil soup. Nevertheless, here it is, because as far as I'm concerned it's really perfect December eating: healthy (unlike party food), flexible (who knows what's left in your larder), relatively fast (you're busy), perfect for making in advance (ditto), and warmly sustaining (weather outside possibly frightful, etc.). And if you count lentils and onions as pantry items, this classic churchmouse supper costs practically nothing.

This recipe is liberally adapted from Everyday Food Great Food Fast, but I never make it the same way twice. If there is bacon around, I start by cooking a few strips of bacon, chopped, and use that fat instead of olive oil. We are cumin addicts and so usually use 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds in addition to thyme. Celery often finds its way into the pot, as do other stray vegetables. I haven't tried a Parmesan rind, but it occurs to me now that that would probably be tasty. What are your lentil soup secrets?

(To preempt the question in the air: yes, the Bellingers do sometimes eat nothing but bread and soup for dinner. We are small and thrifty people. If your appetite demands more, you've got $2.50 left over to buy whatever you need to round out the meal: another vegetable, cheese, fruit for dessert, a bottle of plonk?)

Lentil Soup

About the author: Robin Bellinger is a freelance editor and shameless cookie addict. She lives in San Francisco and blogs about what she feeds her husband and her daughter at home*economics.

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Eat for Eight Bucks: Lentil Soup

About This Recipe

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/4-inch half moons
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups lentils (French or regular both good here)
  • Pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Procedures

  1. 1

    Heat the oil in a soup pot over a medium heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute; then add the lentils and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add enough water (or stock, if you have it) to cover the lentils by a few inches, 4-6 cups depending on your pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 30-45 minutes, until the lentils are completely tender. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in vinegar just before serving.

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