Green lentils are a quick and non-soak easy way to get your pulses in. They take about 40 minutes to cook*. But in this soup I feel the star is herbes de provence. You can substitute other herbs (see below) but the key here is a kind of bitterness, great for gut health and digestion, but also tastily contrasting with the sweetness of the veg and lentils.
The secret to cooking legumes is the combination with aromatics which aid digestion. In dhals you use spices such as cumin, far Asian dishes, star anise, for instance, and dishes with a mediterranean influence, herbs. These herbs are from the botanical grouping Lamiaceae, or mint family (but don’t put mint in this soup!): rosemary, thyme, oregano for instance (these ones you should put in this soup!) – you know, the ones that give off a fragrance in the hot sun or when you rub them. These plants adapted to produce glands with aromatic oils partly to deter insects from eating them, but also in the hot sun to produce a haze of tiny oil droplets that deflect harmful UV rays.
So put yourself on the Provence maquis, in the summer sun: a wonderful aroma arising. Or I remember a long time ago on a Greek island, swimming in the sea and the scent of thyme wafting off the hinterland so sweet. Sigh. Herbes de Provence blend can also include savory, bay leaf, tarragon, marjoram, savory, sage, fennel. Some say anise and lavender too (no thanks).
*My friend Maresa Bossano who runs a community interest company Love Food, says research shows that dried pulses are still cheaper and more economic over tinned. However, for convenience and for folk less experienced at cooking lentils, tinned can be good. Looking on that supermarket’s website, I see these organic dried ones are marginally cheaper than tinned (non-organic) from the same shop, but then you have to add in the energy of cooking them. There is even a British company growing lentils in the UK now. Take a look at Hodmedods. Their green lentils are more than twice the price of the posh supermarket ones, but hopefully things will scale up, and with increasing summer temperatures, become even more viable and a lower carbon footprint.
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 2 outer sticks of celery
- 3 good sized carrots
- another 300g or so of seasonal chopped veg eg squash, courgette, peppers, parsnip, swede
- two dessert spoons herbes de provence
- 10 good grinds of the pepper mill
- 250g green lentils the packet in the pic is 500g
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- a tin of plum tomatoes
- a good handful of chopped green leaves eg kale, savoy cabbage, winter leaves like tatsoi, spinach, chard
- a good handful of chopped fresh parsely optional
Wash/peel/dice the veg and place in a pan with the herbs and lentils and pepper and oil, so all is coated.
- Mix this all around then put on a medium heat stirring to stop from catching for about 5 minutes. The aromatics release, infuse the oil and thence the veg and lentils. Meanwhile fill a full kettle and boil it.
- Add the kettle of boiling water to the pan and refill so that the contents have and extra 2cm to cover. Boil another kettle if not, and you may need to top it up as the lentils expand going forward. I aim for a thick, sludgy lentil base in which the veg are still whole but soft.
- Add in the tin of tomatoes (squixh them)
- Once it has all come to the boil for 5 minutes or so, turn down the heat low and put on the lid. After 30 mins add in the shredded greens and stir them in
- At the end, have a quick check it’s all jammy together and the veg pieces are soft. Add the chopped parsley if using and season with salt and maybe more pepper.
I have served this with buckwheat or dolloped mashed potato/sweet potato on top. Croutons with thyme is another way to go. Adding a grain or carb to the soup makes it a full protein dish, all the amino acids available
see here about how to cook barley – the same goes for any grain