We have soup about once a week. No, not Campbell’s. We can’t remember the last time we bought a can of Campbell’s. Probably 15+ years ago. We really don’t buy soup at the store at all, as we find it nearly as easy to make soup from scratch as it is to open up a can and heat it. Plus, soup made from scratch tastes so much better, and, we like to think it’s better for you, too.
Now, when we decide to have soup, we always make our own broth. It does take some extra time, but we think it’s worth the extra effort. Plus, the way we make broth utilizes scraps that we’d just be tossing in the trash, anyway, so making broth doesn’t cost a penny. Simply save various vegetable scraps (clean carrot, onion, and garlic peels, tough leaves or stems that needed to be trimmed, anything that you could eat, but might not because of its appearance) in a small tub in the refrigerator. After a week, pop them into a saucepan, cover with water, and simmer 45 minutes. Remove scraps, and strain through a coffee filter. Done.
For the lentils, we just use the ordinary brown lentils you find in the store. Nothing fancy, unless you want something different. For the wine, we had a bit left over from the other night, so it went in. If we didn’t have it on hand, we would have skipped the wine. The shiitake is the odd man out, right? What’s it doing in this soup? It’s there to add umami flavor. You could achieve the same thing with Parmesan rinds, or a small piece Kombu ( a type of seaweed), as all are loaded with umami, which acts as a flavor enhancer.
Procedure in detail:
Fry onions. Place the oil in a medium saucepan, about 3 quarts in size, and heat over medium. When hot, add the onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Lately, every time we fry onions, we’ve given them just a sprinkle of salt and pepper. We like to think that it makes them taste better, but it might be because it gives us something to do. Whichever, we think frying onions smell even better with a bit of pepper.
Add garlic. Toss in the garlic and stir. Cook for just about a minute. You don’t want the garlic to burn — it doesn’t taste good — just to start cooking a bit. When you can smell the garlic, you’ve cooked it long enough.
Add kale and wine. Toss in the kale and pour in the wine. At first, the kale will seem like a lot, but, like all greens, it cooks down. Stir from time to time as you cook everything long enough so that all the wine has evaporated, about 10 minutes.
Rinse lentils. While the kale is cooking, quickly give the lentils a rinse. We find that lentils can be a bit dusty, which results in a sediment in the soup. Plus, what else is there to do while the kale is cooking away?
Add lentils and broth. Pour in the lentils and the broth. If you’re using a shiitake mushroom, now’s the time to add it. Just toss it right in.
Simmer. Cover the soup and let it simmer and cook until the lentils are mostly tender, about 20 minutes. It’s okay to have a bit of a crunch in the middle of a lentil, and it’ll be okay if your lentils are completely cooked. We just wanted to add the herbs about halfway through the cooking time so they’d have time to add flavor, but not so much time that some of the flavors would boil off.
Season. If you’re using a shiitake, fish it out and let it cool a bit. Dice it into small pieces, discarding the stem (or save the stem for your next batch of broth), and return to the pan. Add the salt, oregano, marjoram, red pepper, and black pepper. Give everything a stir and re-cover the saucepan.
Simmer. Let the soup simmer, stirring from time to time, until the lentils are tender all the way through and a few are starting to fall apart, about 20 to 25 minutes longer.
Season. Add the vinegar, give the soup a stir, and a taste. Adjust the amount of salt and pepper as you see fit.
Serve. We wanted a little texture in our soup, so as we served it, we added a few croutons. We also sprinkled it with a bit of basil, too. Partly for looks, but mainly for flavor (basil flavor cooks off rapidly, so you’re best adding it right near the end).
This soup turned out great. We like that it was full of lentils, making it more like a stew than a soup. We thought the amount of kale was just about perfect; with too much kale, you can end up with a soup that tastes, well, like kale. This did not. We would have liked to add something as a bit of color, and we considered adding a carrot, but, in the end, we went old-school. An easy four stars.