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.
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 slices thick cut bacon, cut into lardoons (matchsticks)
- 1 medium carrot, finely diced
- 1 large shallot, finely diced
- 1 small celery stalk, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed and whole
- 5 stems thyme
- 3/4 cup du Puy lentils
- 3/4 cup regular lentils
- 8 cups liquid (water or vegetable stock or a mixture of the two)
- Note: Be sure to rinse your lentils, and check for any stones.
Melt the butter in a stock pot, and add the bacon. Sauté on medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes.
Add the carrot, shallot, celery, and garlic, and sauté on medium heat for 5 minutes.
Add the lentils, thyme, and stock or water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the soup, and simmer for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
I like to blend part of the soup to slightly thicken it, but that is up to taste. If so, remove the thyme stems and the whole garlic cloves and discard, and use an immersion blender until desired consistency is reached.