Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fast, cheap & easy! (It's soup, you filthy minded lech.)

I have a bit of a tortured history with lentils. It only takes one stand-out negative food experience in a child's life to forever mark that item as utterly inedible, and I had that with lentils. The back story is not terribly important, but there was a lentil burger at one point, remarkable only in it's density, alarmingly cardboad-y texture, flavorlessness and ability to be held together by, apparently, only other lentils. There was no evidence of seasoning or binding agent...just pure, unadulterated...lentil. On a bun.

It's taken me 20+ years to even ATTEMPT to consume them again, and I began with a certain level of trepidation. I've since made them several times (mostly in soups) and my fondness for them grows every time. They have, in my opinion, three things going for them: 1) they're healthy as all get out, 2) they're very, very cheap and 3) they cook up far more quickly than other dried legumes, which makes them far easier to make without advance planning. Oh yes, and they're pretty tasty, too.

The driving force behind today's culinary choice was reason #2. This has been a scandalously expensive week (mortgage and big vet bill...all at once...ouch!), and the grocery budget was...curtailed. To just about nil. Of course, one still has to eat, and I had reached my personal ceiling on PB&J. 'Twas time to do some creative shopping and exhuming of mystery items from the freezer.

Damn near every budget can include dried beans (none of the 16 oz bags in my grocery store exceed $2), and other soup staples (onions, celery, carrots) are either usually kicking around in varying stages of limpness in my fridge or are also very affordable. Thanks to the generosity of a customer at work, I also had some venison kielbasa in my freezer. A handful of spices, some water and/or stock, and ta-dah! Soup!

This particular permutation of lentil soup was jazzed up by the addition of a tandoori spice mix my mom created and had given me for Christmas. I think you'd get equally tasty results with turmeric, some Chinese Five Spice and ginger. Or curry powder. Never, ever let a soup recipe handcuff you...they are nothing if not flexible! Do NOT buy a million spices for one recipe and then let them linger on your spice rack. Buy what you'll use frequently, and experiment. This turned out to be just wonderful...spicy, rich and bright. While I used kielbasa because it's what I had, you could use any or no meat that appeals. Hot Italian sausage would be great. Chicken. Tofu. Anything. Because the kielbasa is intensely garlicky, I did not add any additional garlic to the soup. With other, less seasoned proteins, I'd go ahead and saute some along with the onions, celery and carrots.

Without further ado...

Tandoori-ish Lentil Soup with Random Meat


  • 1/2 lb(ish) kielbasa (or chicken, sausage, tofu, or ignore this entirely) diced finely
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • Olive oil
  • 4 cups broth + 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups rinsed red lentils
  • 2 tbsp tandoori spice mix (or curry powder)
  • Salt to taste

  • In medium pan, saute kielbasa in a little olive oil until nicely browned and a bit crisp. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • In a separate, large Dutch oven, over medium heat, saute the onions, carrots and celery for about 5 minutes, or until beginning to soften.
  • Add tandoori spice mix or curry powder and cook for about 1 minute, just to let the seasonings meld with the veggies.
  • Pour in broth and/or water.
  • Add lentils and reserved kielbasa.
  • Bring to a gentle simmer, reduce heat, and let it burble for about 15 minutes.
  • Season to taste with salt.
Makes 4-5 good-sized bowls

And there you have it...several meals worth of very soothing soup that will only get better with time to mellow. And all for under $2/bowl!