Recently, my daughter’s preschool teacher admitted to me that she tasted the lentil soup I gave my daughter for lunch. A pescatarian, the teacher said she was struggling to find something easy, healthy, and preferably gluten-free to cook that would make her feel good her and appease her vegan daughter. I told her the basics of the recipe, which I had developed recently for a client. A few days later, she told me she started cooking lentils and lentil soup at home and it changed her life.

Her words came at a crucial moment, when I, along with a number of food and lifestyle-focused writers, started to wonder if our work really mattered. It was reassuring to hear it can.

Recipes on the Internet are often titled THE BEST or even, the best EVER. I can’t necessarily add those superlatives to the recipe here, although the soup is very, very good. I will tell you, learning to make lentil soup—whether you use my recipe or not—could, in fact, change your life. If you don’t believe me, just ask my friend Joy Manning how she started her journey as an avid home cook and successful food writer. You guessed it: A simple pot of lentil soup. And if you’re looking for other inspired versions, check out this fun new lentil soup Mad Lib from Food 52.

Spiced Lentil Soup with Spinach
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
The depth of flavor in this soup comes from the combination of tomato paste and smoked paprika, both of which get lightly toasted. I also think the vinegar added at the end for some brightness is non-negotiable, but you can try lemon juice instead. Otherwise, you can change the recipe how you like. Switch up the spices or use celery instead of fennel. For the greens, you can swap the spinach for stemmed kale or Swiss chard; just be sure to give them a few minutes to simmer to tenderness. For a thicker soup, use less water. To enrich the broth, add a Parmesan rind further. You can also top the soup with grated cheese.
Author:
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 small fennel bulb, stalks removed, bulb cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 cup black lentils or French green lentils
  • 8 cups low-sodium broth or water
  • 5 ounces baby spinach leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Instructions
  1. In a pot, heat the ¼ cup olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and fennel, season with salt and pepper, and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook until it glazes the bottom of the pot, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, and smoked paprika and cook until the spices are fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  2. Add the lentils and broth and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Add the spinach, a handful at a time, stirring until wilted. Add the vinegar and heat for about 30 seconds. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle with olive oil and serve.

 

A simple French-style lentil salad. Great for lunch or picnics.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

This quote, attributed to Voltaire, has become one of my favorites over the past few years. And yet, I haven’t heeded this wisdom at all when it comes to this blog. If you scroll a bit, you’ll see that I’ve been posting surreptitiously behind a maintenance screen for almost a year. (My real first post explains why this blog exists.)

I kept waiting for the perfect moment to launch. First, I wanted the design to be done. The wildly talented ladies behind Wooden Spoons Kitchen, who sadly are closing up shop later this year, completed their work in the spring. Then, I thought, I’ll wait until after the photo shoots for my book but oh! Then there’s a wedding in Mexico. If I’m not launching until after Mexico, I might as well wait until I get back from my vacation. And on and on it goes.

In truth, I think I’ve been a little afraid to launch. I wanted more than the perfect moment. I wanted to know I could create a damn near perfect blog post, every time I tried. You see, so many bloggers do jobs that would require eight different people at a magazine (writer, editor, recipe developer, copy editor, prop stylist, food stylist, photographer, photo editor) and do them all pretty well. It’s totally intimidating.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Right.

And so here we are. Hi!

I did, in fact, wait until after my vacation, a truly wonderful trip to France with my husband, daughter and for part of the time, my dad. While there, we cooked very simply: Grilled or pan-seared fish with tomato salads were in heavy rotation. I also re-affirmed my love for a simple lentil salad, which we took out on a picnic one day with some spectacular canned tuna and, of course, a bottle of rosé. (That’s so us!)

Since being home, I’ve made a version of this lentil salad twice already. It’s a great make-ahead dish for lunch al desko (and #notasaddesklunch), whether you work in an office or at home. I also love having it around as a building block for a quick dinner: You can just add cooked salmon, pulled rotisserie chicken or a fried egg to make it feel a bit more complete. And finally, this is one of those dishes I know that my daughter will always eat. Sometimes I mix in a little cooked broccoli or feta cheese; sometimes I leave it as is.

The only fussy part is that the salad is best with lentils that stay together after they’re cooked: French green lentils (de puy); Umbrian lentils or those sexy black beluga lentils all work well. If you can only find your standard brown lentils, no sweat. The salad will still be good. And when it comes to a quick lunch or dinner, good is perfect. continue reading