Lentil Soup with Tomato and Tuscan Kale

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Ok, we’ve had our fun with summer food. The weather is turning cool and it’s time to pay a bit more attention to what we eat. It’s time to talk lentils.

You’ve heard the drill: Whether brown, green or orange, lentils are full of vitamins and fibre, and contain high levels of iron and fat-free protein. They lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, and contribute to heart health. We should be eating mountains of them, but let’s face it, unless they’re dressed up with lots of flavour, lentils can be a bit of a slog.

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Marco Canora, owner of the New York City restaurant Hearth, shows us the way. His recipe for Lentil Soup with Tomato and Tuscan Kale, from his cookbook A Good Food Day, layers flavour upon flavour to transform this humble legume into a rich, delicious and nourishing meal.

He first cooks the lentils with a whole head of garlic, some onion, carrots, celery and a bay leaf, all of which are discarded once the lentils are soft. Then, as a secondary flavour building block, he makes a soffrito, a cornerstone of Italian cooking, usually made of onions, carrots and either celery or fennel, along with other aromatics, in this case herbs and tomatoes.

The vegetables are minced and fried in sizzling olive oil, and the longer they cook, the more colour and complexity the soffrito develops. In the end, the soffrito is added to the lentils along with chopped Tuscan kale (also known as cavolo nero, black kale or lacinato kale), which becomes tender with a few more minutes of cooking. The soup is served topped with yet another layer of flavour – grated Parmesan and a few dribbles of good olive oil.

Brown lentils rather than French green Puy lentils are used in this recipe because they tend to break down, contributing to the thickness of the soup. We do not want a brothy lentil soup, we want it more on the stewy side. The soup tends to thicken even more as it sits, however, so you might need to add more water than called for. Make sure your soup is adequately salted and pack any leftovers into containers for the freezer. Your body will thank you.

Lentil Soup with Tomato and Tuscan Kale
Ingredients
Lentils
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 pound brown lentils
  • ½ yellow onion
  • 1 carrot, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into large pieces
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Fine sea salt
Soffrito and Vegetables
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 2 small carrots, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes with their juices
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch Tuscan kale, stems and centre ribs removed, leaves washed and coarsely chopped
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving
Instructions
  1. For the lentils: Remove the outer layers from the head of garlic and cut off about ¼ inch of the stem end to expose the cloves. Add the lentils to a large pot and cover them by 2 inches with water. Add the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, the head of garlic, and a couple of pinches of salt. Bring the lentils to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until the lentils are creamy and tender, about 40 minutes.
  2. Remove and discard the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, and garlic. Using an immersion blender, purée about one-third of the lentils (or scoop one-third of the lentils into a standard blender and purée, then add back to the pot.)
  3. For the soffrito: In a food processor, combine the red onion, carrots, celery, rosemary, and thyme and pulse until the vegetables are minced. Add the mixture to a separate large soup pot along with the olive oil. Turn the heat to high and fry the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until they soften and colour slightly, 10 to 12 minutes.
  4. Add the tomato paste, canned tomatoes with their juice, and a couple pinches of salt to the soffrito and stir. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for 10 minutes. Add the kale and another pinch of salt, stirring to coat the leaves. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, until the kale is soft.
  5. Pour the lentils into the pot of vegetables and stir. Add about 2 cups of water, a little at a time, to thin the soup (it can be more or less water, depending on the level of thickness you prefer). Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes to allow the flavours to come together. Taste and add salt, if needed. Serve with black pepper, Parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil.
  • Serves: 8 to 10

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