I opened the new year with lentil soup for good luck, as is the tradition in my family.
I see the comedy in the fact that I’m not getting around to putting up this post until over a month later, and that it just happens to be Chinese New Year. While this recipe is in no way Chinese, it is actually somewhat fitting in that lentils, like many of the foods consumed on Chinese New Year, are supposed to bring prosperity in the new year.
The idea that eating lentils is supposed to bring good luck comes down to me from my grandma. I realized, though, that I knew nothing about what was behind the tradition and I began to question my mom about it soon after New Year’s. What part of the family did it come from? Was is it a Venezuelan, Lebanese, or Polish thing? (Yeah, and that’s just the mix on my mom’s side.) It turns out she wasn’t sure either, and sadly my grandma recently left us, and so is no longer around to ask.
Which heritage this ritual comes from in my particular family remains unclear, however, it turns out that it’s not at all uncommon. An extremely cursory search found references to their powers of prosperity in German, Brazilian, and Italian traditions. (It’s also pretty similar to the Southern practice of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s day--which is the custom in my husband, Greg’s, family). Lentils are often get their fame because their small round appearance is reminiscent of coins. Taking that into consideration, I used a mix of green and yellow (i.e. gold) lentil in this version.
Since I was making this on New Year’s Day--a recovery day for most of us--I really didn’t to make anything too fussy, so I put in little bits of whatever I had around without stressing too much about it. If you have other herbs or spices around that you’d rather use, go right ahead. I also didn’t feel like doing a tons of chopping, so I used pre-chopped mirepoix from TJ’s and fingerling potatoes that only required a slice or two each.
As with most soups and sauces, I think this one is better second day once the flavors have had more time to meld. The lentils also break down a bit more and give the soup a thicker texture. If you prefer your soup on the thicker side, you can achieve this texture faster by allowing the soup to cook for a longer period of time. I also like to garnish with a little feta and add a little hot sauce right in the bowl.
I’m still waiting for the coins to start flowing my way, but this soup is hearty, satisfying and is full of so many nutritious things, and those are riches to be enjoyed any day of the year.
Lentil Sausage SoupMakes 6-8 servings
Ingredients4 sausages (I used garlic chicken this time), sliced
Mirepoix (I used the pre-chopped Trader Joe’s version -- if chopping yourself it works out to just about ½ cup of each of onion, celery, and carrots)
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb fingerling potatoes, halved (or quartered if large)
2 cup lentils (this time I used half green and half yellow)
1 Tbsp Brandy (or wine, or whatever you want splash in for extra flavor)
4 cup kale
4 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
64 oz chicken stock
1 tsp Greek seasoning
coriander, to taste
cumin, to taste
pepper, to taste
salt, to taste
Cooking oil of your choice
Optional: Feta and hot sauce to garnish
1. Heat a small amount of oil in a large over medium-high heat, then add the sausages and cook until lightly browned. Remove the sausages from the pan and set aside.
2. Heat a small amount of oil in the pan, then add the mirepoix and sweat over medium heat. Once the veggies are beginning to soften, add the garlic and continue to sweat until tender (8-10 minutes). Deglaze the pan with the brandy or wine.
3. Add the potatoes to the vegetables mixture, followed by the lentils, sausage pieces, and top with the kale, thyme sprigs and bay leaves. (Feel free to add in another splash of wine or brandy.) Cover with the chicken stock, and add the various seasonings to taste.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil, then allow the whole mixture to simmer until the lentils are soft and the potatoes are tenders--at least 40 minutes, or longer if you prefer softer lentils and thicker consistency for the soup. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves, and serve warm. Garnish with feta and hot sauce if desired.
For a simple left over makeover for this recipe, cook the soup down until most of the liquid has evaporated, then just put an egg on it for a really easy variation on a hash.
(Update added 3/4/16)