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French in a Flash: My Perfect French Lentil Soup with Thyme and Bacon

[Photographs: Kerry Saretsky]

The first dish we made in culinary school in France was vegetable soup. Nothing but a few chopped-up roots and water. And yet, it was luxurious and delicious, gilded with a slick bit of butter and bacon, and a spritz of eau de bouquet garni. It exhibited how French cuisine can elevate the lowly to the excellent. The way the vegetables were cut, an intricate flat triangular shape called paysanne, meaning peasant, was testament to the union of the humble and the exalted.

I love French lentils, because they demonstrate the same talents. Smaller and daintier, darker and firmer than our regular brown discus-shaped lentils, they give a refined appearance and a contrasting texture to the brown lentils I also include in this recipe. And while they appear all the more gourmet to us, they are still peasant-food cheap, served traditionally under a fillet of salmon, or in a salad with some chopped vegetables.

Here, I pair the famous lentils du Puy with a touch of the butter and bacon I picked up in culinary school (albeit far less), along with earthy, tumbleweed thyme that pairs perfectly with the salt-of-the-earth flavor and texture of lentils. Shallots, carrot, and celery infuse the water, and in less than an hour, you have a pot of soup that is light, but filling, aromatic but delicate. It's the perfect lentil soup—a recipe I make time and time again. And while some leave behind great pots of soup as spring and summer descend once again, I find them the perfect seasons for light, liquid dinners. Then again, I also prefer ice cream in winter, so make of that what you will.

About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the The Secret Ingredient series for Serious Eats.

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