“Here’s the dish to serve when the mercury’s low and your mood’s down with it. Rice, vegetables, and cheese make this lentil soup uncommonly hearty. Add bread, and you’ll have dinner.” (Diana Shaw, Almost Vegetarian)
I’ve resolved this semester to take my foray into semi-vegetarianism up a notch. It’s a shame that the vegetables and fruits I bring home from the fabled Berkeley Bowl, while the cheapest ones this side of Ranch 99, and certainly the freshest, are the same varities that can be found at Safeway. Tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoli? I need to live it up a little bit. How about some rutabagas? Edible salad flowers? Brussels sprouts by the stalk?
I’m going to go for two (2) new vegetables or fruits per week. I’ll post the results of the expansions of my culinary horizon here.
This week: Swiss chard and uncooked lentils.
Chard has a delicate flavor similar to that of spinach when cooked. To prepare it for cooking, fold each leaf in half along the red stem and gently tear the stem away. Young chard leaves are more tender — Amy made a delicious salad of winter greens, including chard, yesterday.
Green lentils are an excellent source of protein and iron, two nutrients I seem to be always lacking since I stopped eating meat regularly. Lentils come in many other varieties, including brown, black, and yellow.
Last week, I used this recipe (with a few alterations) from Diana Shaw’s Almost Vegetarian, to great success. I got compliments from several of my omnivorous friends who praised the soup for its heartiness and its delicious blend of parmesan and chard. It can be made in advance, frozen for storage, and made excellent leftovers with a hunk of Semifreddi’s sour bâtard.
Chunky Lentil Soup with Parmesan
Cooking time: 1 hour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
4 carrots, chopped
3 large celery stalks, including leaves, coarsely chopped, or 1 small fennel bulb, including leaves
3 cups torn washed Swiss chard
1 1/2 quarts vegetable broth or chicken broth
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 cup uncooked green lentils
1/4 cup uncooked white rice, although next time I will try orzo as a substitute instead
1/2 cup (plus extra) grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery or fennel, and saute over medium heat until everything’s very soft, about 20 minutes.
2. Stir in the spinach or chard, and cook, stirring, until it turns bright green, about 2 minutes more.
3. Add the vegetable broth, pureed tomatoes, and lentils. Stir well, cover, and simmer over medium-low heat.
4. Stir in the rice, cover again, and let the mixture simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes more, or until the rice is cooked through.
5. Meanwhile, combine the parmesan and parsley.
6. Stir the parmesan parsley mixture into the soup, making sure to blend it throughout. Season with pepper. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and serve right away. Top with extra parmesan.