French Lentil Soup

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Lentilles du Puy are known as the caviar of lentils because this small, dark olive green–colored variety possesses a distinctly earthy flavor and firm texture. They appear in dishes from southern France to Turkey, but when used in soups they often turn to unsightly brown mush. To create a hearty and attractive soup, we would need to cook the lentils perfectly. Heating the lentils in a covered pan with aromatics before adding any liquid helped them hold their shape and boosted their flavor; bacon introduced complementary smokiness. Pureeing only some of the soup ensured that the final result had a varied texture. A final splash of balsamic vinegar brightened the dish. Lentilles du Puy, also called French green lentils, are our first choice for this recipe, but brown, black, or regular green lentils are fine, too (note that cooking times will vary depending on the type used).

3 slices bacon, cut into ¼-inch pieces

1 large onion, chopped fine

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or ¼ teaspoon dried

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained

1 bay leaf

1 cup lentilles du Puy, picked over and rinsed

Salt and pepper

½ cup dry white wine

4½ cups chicken broth, plus extra as needed

1½ cups water

1½ teaspoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

  1. Cook bacon in Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring often, until crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir in onion and carrots and cook until vegetables begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and bay leaf and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in lentils and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until vegetables are softened and lentils have darkened, 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Increase heat to high, stir in wine, and bring to simmer. Stir in broth and water and bring to boil. Partially cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until lentils are tender but still hold their shape, 30 to 35 minutes.
  3. Discard bay leaf. Process 3 cups soup in blender until smooth, about 30 seconds, then return to pot. Heat soup gently over low heat until hot (do not boil) and adjust consistency with extra hot broth as needed. Stir in vinegar and parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.

French Lentil Soup with Spinach

Substitute 5 cups baby spinach for parsley; cook spinach in soup, stirring often, until wilted, about 3 minutes.

French Lentil Soup with Fragrant Spices

Add 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper to pot with garlic. Substitute 1½ teaspoons lemon juice for balsamic vinegar and 3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro for parsley.


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