The first paragraph of Don Quixote written in the early seventeenth century opens with a description of a man, “His surname is said to have been Quixada or Quesada (as if he were a jawbone or a cheesecake)…a man who ate lentils on Fridays, eggs on Saturdays, sometimes a pigeon on Sundays and an occasional stew with more beef than mutton.”
“Don Quixote and Sancho Panza” by Honore Daumier (1850) photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Lentil soup is a dish as old as it gets and as simple as it gets. Declared “the sweetest of delicacies” by Aristophanes in ancient Greece, I decided to make it tonight because of its significance this time of year.
One of the interesting New Year’s traditions that Colombians incorporate into their New Year’s Eve is the eating of lentils, which portend prosperity and a year of plenty. Every New Year’s Eve at my in-laws house includes lentil soup.
Not wanting to tempt fate, I had to make a lentil soup for the New Year. I modified mine and made it a curried lentil soup, but the basic recipe is so flexible you can really do what you want with it (add spinach, a protein, alcohol).
I made this tonight with my mother, maybe the second time I can remember where she let me into her kitchen, and had it with a bottle of Warwick black dirt wine. It was delicious, flavorful and colorful with a little bit of a kick.
May this dish bring you prosperity and good fortune well into the New Year and beyond. Happy cooking!
- 1/4 cup of extra–virgin olive oil
- 1 chopped onion
- 3 chopped celery stalks (save the leaves for garnish)
- 2 chopped carrots
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 4 cups of vegetable broth
- 4 cups of water
- 2 cups lentils, rinsed, drained
- 1 can of diced tomatoes
- Balsamic vinegar, red or white wine vinegar or sherry (optional)
- 3 teaspoons cumin
- 2 tablespoons curry
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- 3 tablespoons oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper for taste
- 1 link chorizo or smoked sausage of your choice to lend the dish flavor and depth. (If you’re kosher or a vegetarian leave out).
Heat oil in a large pot over medium–high heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic; sauté until vegetables begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Add all of the broth, water, lentils, tomatoes, bay leaf, spices and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium–low, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 45 minutes.
Sometimes in the last five minutes I will add a bag of baby spinach as well. Season with salt, pepper, and a splash of vinegar or red wine, if desired. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with celery leaves or cilantro and enjoy!