Lentils are friendly – the Miss Congeniality of the bean world.
In my post about Quick Minestrone Soup, I mention that my dad used to make us huge pots of beefy vegetable soup. My parents pretty much shared the cooking duties as I grew up, but soup was my father’s department. The soup of my childhood was cheap, filling and humble. It always had a beefy broth, achieved by boiling the cheapest of soup bones. The rest of the ingredients list was pretty much vegetables, some tomato paste and seasoning. And it was a huge pot – we could eat only soup and bread for supper – it was that filling. There was also soup left for lunch the next day. And for in-between snacks – I had a growing teenage brother who loved soup!
Doing my bit for the environment
You still get those cheap packs of soup meat for sale in South Africa in winter, but my family and I have moved on to eating more sustainably. We try to eat more vegetables and to only buy chicken or fish when we do buy animal protein. So making a beefy broth is out and sticking with vegetables is in! So now we have Vegetarian Lentil Soup. I did still want to have the soup of my childhood though, so my thoughts went to lentils. My dad sometimes added dried lentils or beans to his soups, so I decided to give it a try and I haven’t looked back! Not having to cook a tough cut of beef till it is tender saves a lot of time. The lentils add a lot of protein and I can honestly say I don’t miss the beef.
A word on vegetables
In soups like minestrone or chicken soup, the vegetables you add are pretty much seasonal veggies that you have in your fridge at the time. You can buy chopped soup veggies at most supermarkets nowadays which is very convenient and easy. My dad’s soup is really retro in this respect though. He only used the prepacked soup vegetable packs that have been sold in South African supermarkets since the advent of such supermarkets. Yes, those ones with a potato, two carrots, a turnip and some leeks, celery and parsley. These soup packs cost all of R20 and are absolutely essential to the soup. Old fashioned and boring? Possibly, but the combination of those veggies creates the perfect consistency and flavour. You’ll have to read the recipe to find the secret of how to turn those retro soup veggies into a thick Vegetarian Lentil Soup!
Vegetarian Lentil Soup
- Food processor
- ½ onion, roughly chopped
- 2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
- 1 medium carrot, sliced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed
- 1,5 L boiling water
- 1 pack soup veggies, rinsed See note 2
- 4 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- 1 tbsp miso paste optional
- In a large pot, sauté the onion, celery and carrot until translucent.
- Season with salt and pepper and add boiling water - 1,5L is an estimate. Add however much your pot takes.
- Add the lentils and bring to a rolling boil. Cover and let cook for an hour, adding more boiling water as necessary.
- This is the secret step! Trim the turnip and carrots and cut them and the leeks and celery into smaller pieces. Add to the bowl of a food processor. Add the parsley and blitz on high speed until the veggies are becoming a pulp. I often do this in two batches and I add some cold water through the spout of the food processor to assist with the pulping.
- Peel the potato if you prefer and chop into small blocks.
- Once the lentils have softened, add the vegetable pulp and the blocks of potato and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently.
- Add the tomato paste, vinegar and miso paste (if using).
- Cover the pot and let the soup simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, stirring frequently and adding more boiling water if some of the water cooks away.
- Check the seasoning of the soup, adding salt or pepper as needed. The soup needs quite a lot of salt I find.
- Serve the soup piping hot with croutons on top and crusty bread on the side.
- If you prefer to make a meat broth, fry two soup meat bones instead of the onion, carrot and celery, browning them thoroughly before adding water and lentils. Let the meat and lentils cook for 1,5 to 2 hours until the meat falls off the bones. Remove the meat from the broth and remove bones, fat and gristly bits, returning small pieces of beef to the broth before adding the vegetable pulp.
- The soup vegetable packs we get in South Africa usually has one big or two smaller carrots, one or two turnips, a potato, some leeks, celery and parsley. I sometimes add extra celery and parsley. Pulping the vegetables ensures that the soup cooks to a thick consistency without having to add thickeners.
- The miso paste adds a lovely savoury flavour to the soup without adding meat. If you are not a strict vegetarian, you can add Worcestershire sauce instead of miso paste.
- I like to make this soup in an old fashioned pressure cooker pot. I don't actually do any pressure cooking, but just use the pot with the lid (sealing ring in) without the pressure valve. This gives a nice big quantity of soup and you can turn the stove plate down to very low when you put the lid on. You can cook with the lid on in this way without having the soup constantly bubbling over.