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Aunt Judy’s Lentil Soup

THE STORY OF THIS SOUP: This story is a little poignant. When my Aunt was sick, it was very hard to find stuff that she could or would eat, because her picky-ass palate, the one that all the ladies in my family share, was as rigorous and discerning as ever, but her body was not digesting things right. The delicious rich food that she wanted would cause her a ton of pain. And she wouldn’t just eat any old mush—it had to be good. My mom heard that lentils were good for the pancreas (Aunt Judy had pancreatic cancer), and soups were easier for Judy to eat. Judy loved this and ate it practically every day.

In terms of the broader soup tradition this soup fits into (its bigger story): it comes out of a school of soups (like Harira) from the Mediterranean, Northern Africa and the Middle East that marry legumes such as lentils and chickpeas, which are from that region, with the spices historically traded there. These spices—cumin, paprika, curry, cardamom, coriander, etc—came to define the cuisine of the region because of its importance as a trading hub to China and the Spice Islands. Soups have always been about turning the available into the delicious; long cooked lentils get soft and velvety, with delicious body, and the garlic, onions and spices make it flavorful and complex. But it’s also vegetarian (although I like it better with chicken stock), so could be eaten during Ramadan (Muslim fasting and religious observance).

  • 1/4 cup XVOO
  • 1 medium yellow onion, medium diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced, medium diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 24 oz.  diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup brown or green lentils
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup kale, ribs removed, chopped
  • 4 -5 tsp lemon juice

Warm olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent. DON’T TAKE SHORTCUTS ON THIS PART. This is where the bulk of flavor comes from. No crunchy onions! This will take 20-30 minutes.
Add garlic, cumin, curry powder and thyme. Cook until fragrant while stirring constantly, about 1-2 mins more minute. Add diced tomatoes and cook for five minutes to concentrate flavor.

Pour in the lentils, broth and water. Add salt and red pepper flakes. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Raise heat and bring the mixture to a boil, then partially reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.

Cook for 45 minutes, until lentils are tender but not mush (They should still hold shape). May take longer in New Mexico.

Take 2 cups of soup out of the pot and carefully puree in the blender. (SO NOT ALL THE SOUP, ONLY PART). Add back to pot.

Add chopped greens and remove from heat. Those greens will continue to cook in the bains so don’t cook them on stove. Add lemon juice.

Garnish: fresh cilantro, wedge lemon.