Easy Creamy Red Lentil Soup

Ingredients

I bought some beautiful red lentils on a whim, knowing they are very high in protein and fiber, athough I’d never cooked with them. And then they sat for a few weeks, languishing in my pantry while I pondered what to do with them. My husband is vehemently against eating peas in any form, but I love split-pea soup, especially in winter. Despite the fact that our part of Texas seems to have elected to skip our usual three days of winter this year, I came home from work yesterday and declared it time for soup.

Lentils

I gathered together my ingredients, which I carefully posed for a picture (above, top) before deciding against the lemon, and adding diced frozen, roasted sweet potato, and American cheese. I take a photo of my ingredients because I’m notorious for winging recipes and not writing them down. Then, when I try to recreate them, the second try isn’t as tasty as the first. Even with photos, I’m self-sabotaging.

The lemon wouldn’t be necessary to brighten up the soup, I reasoned, since I didn’t plan on using cream in it.  The sweet potato needed to be used, and it would add flavor and pack even more nutrition into our dinner.  I planned on grating American cheese to sprinkle on top of the soup, but I ended up adding about 2/3 of a cup to the soup, too.  You’ll notice my chicken stock is unsalted.  I didn’t add any salt to the soup, either. Instead, I used mellow white miso, to add a depth of flavor and saltiness.

I fried bacon until crispy, while dicing the carrot, and chopping onion. Once the bacon was out, I sauteed the carrots and onion in the bacon fat until they started to soften before adding roughly chopped garlic and the sweet potato.  I let the veggies cook a few more minutes, while I rooted around in the freezer looking for a popsicle for my son.  When a baggie of frozen organic tomato paste* fell on my foot, which I took it as a sign, and threw a cube into the pot.  (Yet another ingredient not pictured above.)  I gave the veggies another stir, and seasoned them with a pinch of chili powder, and three dashes of ground cumin.  Next was the chicken stock, a little water, and the lentils.  I simmered the soup until the lentils were tender, about half an hour.

I added the miso, a few generous grinds of black pepper, a pinch of dried Mexican oregano, and cheese, then used my immersion blender to cream the soup.  Perfect! Light, but with a good body and flavor, this soup is filling but not a fat-bomb (despite the bacon and cheese).  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Soup

Note to self: garlic bread is not the right accompaniment to this soup. The garlic overwhelmed the soup, and I’ll use regular toasted bread for my leftovers.  This soup could easily be a #MeatlessMonday meal, if you skip the bacon and instead sautee the veggies in an oil of your choice such as olive or coconut oil, and sub vegetable stock for the chicken stock. I’d keep the cheese, though. Because, cheese.

Creamy Red Lentil Soup

Serves 4

3 strips bacon

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large carrot, diced

1 cup diced sweet potato

3-6 cloves garlic, diced (I used 3 gigantic cloves)

1 Tb. organic tomato paste (organic is worth the price — the taste is so much more robust)

3 dashes ground cumin

1 generous pinch chili powder (I used Ancho chili powder, but whatever you have will do)

1 quart unsalted chicken stock

2 cups water

1 cup red lentils

2 Tb. mellow white miso (or more, to taste)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pinch of dried Mexican oregano

2/3 c. shredded American cheese (and a bit more to garnish the soup)

Fry bacon until crisp, and remove from pot. Sautee onion and carrot in bacon fat until starting to soften.  Add garlic and sweet potato, and cook a few minutes more.  Add tomato paste, cumin and chili powder, stirring well to combine.  Pour in stock and water, then add lentils.  Simmer for about 30 minutes, until lentils are soft.  Add miso, pepper, oregano and cheese.  Stir well, then using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a blender, working in batches, until the liquid is smooth and creamy.  Serve topped with crumbled bacon and a little more cheese.

*I seem to always cook recipes that call for 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. Since I don’t want to waste the rest of the can, I portion out the remaining paste into tablespoon-sized dollops on a piece of plastic wrap, and freeze until firm. Then I can throw all the frozen lumps of goodness into a ziploc and save them for the next recipe that calls for it.

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Austin Food & Wine Festival

afw-header_logo_2

I’m eager to experience this year’s Austin Food & Wine Festival with its lineup of both local and national acclaimed chefs including Amanda Freitag, Aarón Sánchez, Hugh Acheson, Tim Love, Bryce Gilmore, Janina O’Leary and Tyson Cole. Hugh Acheson and six other festival participants are 2017 James Beard award semifinalists, and the rest of the lineup are no hacks. All are wildly inventive chefs who have spun their genius into delicious, delectable delights. (I’m very pleased that more female chefs are on the roster than in recent years, too.)

Tickets for the festival are broken into two categories. The All In option ($625) includes access to both days of the festival, Fire Pit access, and entry to one of Tim Love’s outrageously popular Hands On Grilling Demo, Sunday Gospel Brunch by The Warrior Gospel Band, plus evening  events Lone Star Nights on Friday and Rock Your Taco on Saturday.  The Weekender Option ($250) omits entry to the Hands on Grilling Demo and evening events.

Unlike other wine and food festivals that I’ve patronized, this is one fest where you will find plenty to eat, and plenty to drink. In addition to wine, the festival showcases craft beer, and liquors. Remember, if you don’t like the way a particular wine, beer or spirit tastes, utilize the spit buckets. Drink responsibly, and have a designated driver or arrange transportation to and from the event.  As someone who has unashamedly left my car overnight in downtown in the past, it’s much cheaper to pay for a ride home than risk driving while pleasantly relaxed.

The schedule includes sessions by chefs, sommeliers, and other restaurant industry champions. I’m particularly interested in Saturday’s Beef Lovin’ Texans Best Butcher in Texas Finals on Saturday afternoon. The Fire Pits are always fun, and the chefs serve up samples as they cook. I had some of the tastiest fire roasted carrots one year, from Jack Gilmore, if I recall correctly.  Much food, and much fun, all wrapped up into one weekend, and well worth the price of admission.

Follow the Austin Food & Wine Festival on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Search by hashtag #AFWfest to pull up all the chatter about this year’s event.

 

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Green goodness – Instant Pot Chicken Chile Verde

I didn't use the avocados, but they're attention hogs and wanted in the photo.

I didn’t use the avocados, but they’re attention hogs and wanted in the photo.

I’ve used my Instant Pot electric pressure cooker more times since it arrived after Black Friday than any other kitchen appliance I own, save my crock pot and rice cooker. And since my Instant Pot can both slow cook and steam rice, those two appliances are on their way to storage!

I’ve found that my IP is a savior when it comes to making chicken broth, as it drastically reduces the cooking time.  I use a good deal of broth for various recipes, and the act of slow simmering chicken bones, cartilage, skin and meat with herbs and vegetable trimmings for a very long time is something I normally plan for, free up a weekend day in order to accomplish.  Now I have stock in less than an hour, and can freeze it for later use.

I’ve played around with recipes I found online, and have come to the conclusion that some are best left to long cooking on the stove top (I’m looking at you, French Onion Soup). Some recipes are perfect for pressure cooking, though, and pot roast is one, or simply boiling eggs if making a lot for egg salad or deviled eggs, or if you’re Paleo and eat a lot of them.  Baked sweet potatoes take 10 minutes, less time than microwaving large ones.  Fresh Southern-style green beans with onion, garlic and bacon or ham always take longer to cook than expected, unless you use a pressure cooker, and are happily eating them in 20 minutes or so. One recipe I found was so good that it’s already become a regular on my list of weeknight suppers. Thank you, Serious Eats and J. Kenji López-Alt, for the absolutely perfect recipe for Green Chile with Chicken.

So delicious!

So delicious!

This recipe is perfect as written, which is the unicorn of recipes. I rarely, if ever use a recipe that I don’t tweak in some way. Not this one. Nuh uh. Nope. The only concession I’ll make is that if you don’t want to go to the trouble of roasting whole cumin seeds and then grinding them, then don’t. Use fresh pre-ground, and be happy about it because it will be just fine. This is the only recipe for an electric pressure cooker that I’ve found so far that doesn’t call for adding liquid, as the veggies and chicken make their own as they heat. It takes about 10 minutes to make enough liquid and heat up enough to come to pressure, and then the chicken cooks for 15 minutes. Last night I did a manual dec-pressuring instead of letting the pot naturally de-pressurize, so I could cool the chicken while blending the soup to a smooth texture. Shred the chicken, throw it back in and call everyone to the table!

Because my second grade son is obviously a changeling, and too picky to eat this dinner, my husband and I enjoy a generous bowlful with a bit of sour cream, thinly sliced fresh jalapeno peppers, and a sprinkle of cilantro.  The chicken chile verde enchiladas we make with the leftovers are almost more delectable than the stew, with monterey jack and white american cheese adding a lush richness and Tex Mex flavor. Try this recipe, Instant Pot friends. It’s a winner. What’s your favorite pressure cooker recipe?

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