Sunday, January 02, 2011

Beef and Lentil Soup

After such a long holiday, jumping back into the everyday hustle and bustle of life isn't easy. I think we should petition for January to be national Crock Pot Month or something. And with the still-short days and cold, nearly every day is a good day for soup.  (Not to mention that when all the bills from the holidays start pouring in, it's about all any one can afford).

You'll need
3/4 pound (3/4 of a bag) of lentils--you're choice of color (oh, yes, young grasshopper, there are many colors); I just use the plain ol' green lentils from Goya

1/2 pound of either stew meat or beef tips
1 small onion
3-4 medium carrots
3 stalks of celery
6-8 cups of water with 6 beef bullion cubes or a combination of water and beef broth
2 cloves garlic or garlic powder
salt and pepper

Obviously, you don't need a crock pot for this recipe but this is a good recipe for simmering all day. If you are cooking on a stove top instead, use a big pot and allow at least 2 hours for the lentils to cook down all nice and soft.

First, let's talk about the mirepoix. Sometimes referred to as the Holy Trinity, mirepoix is the combination of onions, celery, and carrots used as the basis for most soups, stocks, and-well-honestly, nearly everything in French cooking I think (that's a joke, don't get your panties in a bunch).

Your mirepoix should be chopped at as close to the same sized pieces as humanly possible. For soups, I like mine chopped pretty fine so the onions and celery aren't annoyingly large (read: Mr. Devlin hates celery and Thing 1 hates onions but neither of them do the cooking).  For stocks, I use a rough chop because I'm gonna have to fish those bits out later.
I will also say here that I often chop my carrots slightly larger because they are the color contrast in this dish so I want them to hold up AND I want them big enough for Thing 2 to eat with her fingers. My kitchen, my rules.

beef--ah yeah
deglazing the pan
In a skillet, cook the beef with a little salt and pepper. I like a nice sear on mine but I also deglaze  my skillet afterwards with a bit of water so I don't lose all the bits and pieces of goodness. That stuff is flavor-don't wash it down the sink.
(If you are cooking on the stove top, sear the meat, add a little broth and add in the mirepoix to soften before adding everything else).

In the crock pot, add the liquid, the mirepoix, the meat and pour in the lentils and seasonings. Pop on the lid and WALK AWAY.  On low, this soup will go for a good 6 hours. On high, plan for about 4.  Stir occasionally and check the seasoning after an hour or so.

soup, before cooking
see how it's watery
and the mirepoix
is kind of floating?
that means it's
not done yet

While lentils don't need to be soaked to soften, they do need to simmer a bit to reach their optimal texture for a soup. They won't turn to mush like split peas do, but they should be pleasantly soft--as should the other vegetables.

see how the broth has absorbed
into the lentils?

I really like my lentil soup with buttered toast. I don't really have any explanation other than that the butteriness makes the soup seem richer.
This is hearty stuff that will warm you up after a cold day and any leftovers makes for a nice lunch the next day.

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