A long time ago, I ate this soup at a middle eastern restaurant. It was served as an appetizer in a low and shallow bowl. There was probably about one ladleful of soup in there, because its purpose was only to whet my appetite; but not to satisfy it. The soup was very light, and the lentils were cooked just enough to the point their edges were breaking up. There were sliced carrots and spinach floating around amidst the lentils and bits of translucent onions and softened garlic. The soup was topped with a splash of olive oil and cracked black pepper. It was such a simple looking and tasting soup, yet it woke my tastebuds completely. I was ready for the next part of my meal.
The soup was easy to recreate because there were so few ingredients in it. I still make it the same way, even though over time I learnt of many other variations to preparing this simple soup. Some use a meat stock for richness, some puree part of the soup for a thicker texture, while some others use herbs like parsley, oregano, basil and celery, and spices like a pinch of turmeric or cayenne pepper. A squeeze of lemon juice is sometimes used to brighten the soup just before serving. Even though I have eaten several versions of lentil soup and have enjoyed them, I still stick with this very basic version when I prepare lentil soup at home.
There are many types of lentils, but the specific kind used for this soup are the greenish brown lentils you see in this picture. Even in this variety of lentils, you will find lentils which are a tad smaller and labeled French lentils, and another kind which is the standard green-brown lentil. The french lentils tend to keep their shape despite longer cooking, while the standard lentils break down ever so slightly during cooking. Both are equally tasty so don’t fret to find one over the other. This soup is not a quick dish. It will take some time to cook down the lentils, unless you have a pressure cooker to hasten the cooking slightly. However I prefer the stove top because the cooking is more controlled and you can decide when you want to take the soup off the heat.
Cooking time - 75 mins Serves - 4 large servings Ingredients: 1 heaped cup french lentils, picked and rinsed 2 cups vegetable stock (optional) 8 cups water, increase to 10 if not using stock 2-3 tbsps olive oil 6 garlic cloves, peeled, and chopped roughly 1/2 yellow or white onion, diced 4 carrots, peeled and sliced 2 cups baby spinach leaves, chopped roughly salt and pepper to taste Method: In a large stockpot, combine lentils with 2 cups vegetable stock and 2 cups water. If not using vegetable stock, add 4 cups of water. Bring to a slow simmer and let lentils cook uncovered, until soft and tender, about 30 mins. Add 4 more cups of water, salt to taste and let simmer. Reserve the remaining two cups water and use only if you want to adjust the consistency of the soup. While the lentils are simmering, in another saucepan on medium heat, cook the onion and garlic in olive oil until the onions are translucent. Season lightly with salt and add the sliced carrots to the pan. Fold in the onion mixture into the stockpot with simmering lentils. Check the seasoning and adjust for salt if necessary. Continue cooking for 15 more minutes until the carrots are tender but not breaking apart. Add the chopped spinach and cover the soup. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Ladle into bowls, top with plenty of cracked black pepper and serve.