I’ve always loved lentil soup–in fact lentils are my favorite kind of bean. The kind of lentil soup I grew up with usually entailed a good dose of our family meat sauce. This made the soup taste extra rich, but it meant I had to find a different version to serve to vegetarians or when I didn’t have any meat sauce on hand.
This is a simple, satisfying dish. You can serve it on its own, maybe with some good hearty bread and a light salad, or you might pair it with mild Italian sausage if there are carnivores around. In fact, since the soup itself actually qualifies as vegan, this is a good choice for a meal at which you need to serve a variety of different diets. It is hearty enough for meat-eaters (especially if you provide garnishes like sausage or fried pancetta or bacon) but healthy enough for anyone else. And like all hearty soups, this is a good recipe for cold weather.
Another good thing about this dish is that almost any aspect of it can be varied to suit taste or availability. The version pictured here used about 4 cups of homemade marinara that I happened to have in the freezer, but canned tomatoes of various kinds will be fine, and the recipe below is written for canned plum tomatoes. You can add more or less of any of the seasonings, and you can certainly substitute other flavors. You could also add diced potato or sliced fennel if you happen to have either of those.
Two final things. (1) I’ve come across a number of lentil recipes that ask you to soak the lentils beforehand. Lentils cook fully from their dry state in 30 to 45 minutes, so don’t bother soaking. (2) The splash or so of red wine vinegar stirred in at the end wakes up the flavors in the soup but does not make it taste at all vinegary.
Vegetarian Lentil Soup Recipe
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion roughly chopped
- 2 medium carrots chopped
- 1 celery stalk chopped
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 1 pound brown lentils
- 1 can 28 oz. whole tomatoes, crushed thoroughly, and their liquid
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 3 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh celery leaves if available
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons fennel seed
- 1 pinch sugar
- freshly ground black pepper
- red wine vinegar
In a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft and starting to brown, about 5 minutes.
Add carrots and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly soft and coated in oil, 7-8 minutes.
Add garlic and cook until soft and slightly golden, about 1 minute. (Be careful not to let the garlic burn.)
Add tomatoes and their liquid, vegetable stock, water, and lentils, and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Bring to a boil.
Add bay leaf, celery leaves, oregano, fennel seed, and sugar and reduce to a simmer.
Cook, uncovered, until the lentils and vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Stir in one or two splashes of red wine vinegar and serve.