I have told this story so many times that if you know me, you’ve definitely heard it before. But it was one of my very first a-ha moments about cooking, a Joy-as-a-cook creation story, so I’m telling it again. Anyway. Years ago, my sister dated a chef. A really good chef. It was during my “I must be a size 4 or life isn’t worth living” period, so I was very regimented about what I ate. Jill and her chef-boyfriend, on the other hand, ate out almost every night at some of the best restaurants in town. I was totally fascinated by this food-centric life even though it scared me. During this time, I ate Amy’s Organic canned lentil soup almost everyday.
Looking back, I can hardly believe it. I remember well the soup’s insipid muddy flavor. One day, I was cracking a can open in front of Jill’s chef-boyfriend, and he said, “Do you have any idea how easy it would be to make ‘Joy’s organic lentil soup’ and how much better it would taste?”
Well, no. I then had no better an idea how to make lentil soup than I do now how to build a speedboat engine. He briefly described the very simple steps involved in making lentil soup. Later, I jotted these basic instructions down in my notebook. Essentially, the steps were: chop up some onions, carrots, and celery and fry in oil until soft. Add water and lentils and cook until the lentils are tender. Season well with salt and pepper, blend if desired, topped with an optional squeeze of lemon juice. I didn’t really believe that this easy procedure would yield a better bowl of lunch than my Amy’s Organic can.
But, duh, he was right, I was wrong, and I’ve never besmirched my pantry with canned lentil soup again. Over the years, I’ve made this soup dozens of ways. In Almost Meatless, the lentil soup has an Italian accent. This recipe is vaguely, I don’t know, Spanish. It was based on the leftover chorizo, celery, and jalapenos I had lingering in the fridge.
Spicy, Brothy Lentil Soup
I don’t know how much it makes. I broke the large Pyrex pitcher I always measure soup in while making this.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 1/2 ounces (two links) cured chorizo, cubed
2 medium celery stalks, diced
1 cup diced onions
3 jalapenos, one of them seeded, minced, divided
1 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves
8 cups chicken stock or water
1 cup brown or green lentils
Add the oil to a soup pot over medium heat. Fry the chorizo, stirring occasionally, until much of the fat has rendered, the oil is orange, and the chorizo bits are crisp.
That oil is now infused with a lot of the chorizo’s spices. Remove and reserve the chorizo bits, and add the celery, onion, two-thirds of the jalapeno, and the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very soft, about 20 minutes.
I saved a bit of the jalapeno because as it cooks, the heat dwindles, and I wanted to soup to have a little fresh chili bite. When the vegetables are good and soft, add the remaining jalapeno and garlic, and cook for only a minute. Add the broth and lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and put a lid on your pot. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Stir in the reserved chorizo bits and cook and until those are hot.
Ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, and serve with a lot of good fresh bread. Cross canned lentil soup off your shopping list for the rest of your life.