Gremolata is the Secret to the Tastiest Simple Lentil Soup

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The secret to a flavor-packed lentil soup? Gremolata: a mixture of parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

My wife loves lentil soup, which means I make a lot of it. It's my go-to meal when I want to make something I know she'll enjoy without having to spend too much time, thought, or effort on it. The thing is, my wife likes it ultra simple. I mean, about as simple as you can get. Nothing more than a basic mirepoix, some good stock, and dried lentils for her, please.

I, on the other hand, prefer to punch mine up with other flavors, like, say, curry or coconut and habanero. Every time I do, my wife complains.

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The players.

Little does she know that she's been the subject of a little experiment of mine. See, every time I make lentil soup, I push the boundary of what an acceptable level of extra flavor is for her, bouncing back and forth between too much (hello, coconut) and just enough. I've finally hit on what I believe is the upper limit of her tolerance, and therefore the most flavor-packed lentil soup I can make while still keeping my home life content.

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The secret to this version? Gremolata, the Italian condiment of chopped fresh parsley, lemon zest, and garlic typically served with osso bucco. In this case, I use it to develop two distinct levels of flavor, once while sautéing my aromatics, and again by stirring it in at the very end.

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While a typical gremolata is a dry condiment, I combine mine with some extra-virgin olive oil. As the gremolata sits while the soup simmers, the fat-soluble aromatic compounds in the lemon, parsley, and garlic are drawn out into the oil, making it much easier to add mellow flavor to the whole bowl of soup when we serve it.

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To start out, I cook my basic mirepoix—diced onions, carrots, celery, and leek in this case—in some extra-virgin olive oil (don't worry—the steam coming off the vegetables will keep the oil down to a low enough temperature that you won't scorch it and ruin those extra-virgin flavors) just until softened.

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Then I add half of my gremolata mixture, stirring it in and sautéing just until aromatic.

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Are you ready for the hard part? Yes? That's really unfortunate, as the hard part is already over.

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All we have left to do is add our lentils (brown or Puy lentils will both work fine) along with some good vegetable or chicken stock and a couple of bay leaves, bring it to a simmer, and walk away for an hour.

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When we get back, the lentils should be falling apart-tender and packed with flavor.

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I like my lentil soup to be lightly blended but not smooth. Brown and sludgy is how I'd describe it if I were simultaneously really good at describing things and really terrible at writing menus.

You get what I mean though, right?

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A shot of lemon juice at the very end brightens it up with some acid before the final kicker: an extra drizzle of oily gremolata drizzled on top of each serving.

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If you're feeling particularly feisty, you should consider doing what I did with one of these batches: adding a good pinch of dried chili flakes (I used dried Thai chili) to the gremolata for just a kiss of heat.

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Now here's a soup that we can both be happy with, and while lentil soup may not be the most exciting thing in the world, a tranquil marriage is.