Recipe: French lentil and spinach soup

The hardest part of this recipe is chopping the vegetables.
The hardest part of this recipe is chopping the vegetables.

I wrote this one down on my “cheap healthy recipes” list at the same time as the last lentil soup, and it actually comes from the same source: The Bojon Gourmet. I mostly look at the site for the pretty pictures, since most of the recipes seem to require a lot of steps and ingredients/equipment that I don’t have. Admittedly, I have a kind of weirdly-stocked kitchen; my cupboard/fridge shelf currently contains apple cider vinegar but not balsamic, plain yogurt, but no milk, and demerara sugar, but not brown sugar.

Fun fact: this mixture of chopped veggies (onions, carrots and celery/fennel) has a name: mirepoix! I feel so fancy.
Fun fact: this mixture (chopped onions, carrots and celery/fennel) has a name: mirepoix! So fancy.
Sauteing the mirepoix with tomato paste and mustard.
Sauteing the mirepoix with tomato paste and mustard.

As a result, I had to make some changes even to this relatively simple recipe. The biggest is using frozen spinach instead of fresh; I just felt that fresh spinach wilts too quickly to keep all week in the fridge, and I already had the frozen stuff.  I swapped white wine for the red because the bottle of crappy white wine that I bought for the last lentil soup has been chilling the fridge for weeks and needs to get used up somehow. Lacking a bay leaf, I added some mixed herbs instead. I also used very dilute chicken stock (1 stock cube for 6 cups of water) in place of the water/vegetable stock called for.

Just added the lentils and stock. Time to go do something else for half an hour! (In my case, it was eating kale chips and baking cookies with my housemates.)
Just added the lentils and stock. Time to go do something else for half an hour! (In my case, it was eating kale chips and baking cookies with my housemates.)
The more-or-less final simmer with the spinach and some extra pepper added..
The more-or-less final simmer with the spinach and some extra pepper added..

Fortunately, it still turned out delicious, just the sort of thing I want to come home to after a cold Sunday afternoon outing on the Cam or a long day in the lab. I’m sure it would be better with fresh spinach, but using frozen worked out reasonably well. I’d probably increase the amount of mustard as well, and maybe add some fennel seeds, but those are really just a matter of personal taste. This isn’t a flashy or fancy soup, but it manages to be hearty but not too heavy and healthy without any sense of deprivation. “Wholesome” is probably the right word. If you’re looking for a digestive break between the candyfest that is Halloween and the Thanksgiving/Christmas onslaught of cookies and pies (not to mention the main dishes), here it is.

Tonight's dinner bowl: delicious!
Tonight’s dinner bowl: delicious!

French Lentil and Spinach Soup

Adapted from: The Bojon Gourmet.

Yield: 6-8 servings (about 2 quarts).

2 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 small yellow onions, finely diced
1 large or 2 smaller carrots, finely diced
1 small fennel bulb, finely diced (or 1 large celery stalk; I used both)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 Tbsp wholegrain mustard
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 c white wine
1.5 c green lentils, optionally soaked for 4-8 hours
1 bay leaf or 1.5 tsp mixed herbs
6-8 c chicken or vegetable stock or water
Salt and black pepper
~3 c frozen spinach (or 4-6 cups loosely packed baby spinach leaves, washed)
Parmesan, for serving

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over a medium flame until it shimmers. Add the onion, carrot and fennel, and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 minute, being careful not to let it burn. Add the mustard and tomato paste. Cook, stirring, until it forms a film on the bottom of the pan, 2-5 minutes.

Add the wine, scrape up all the good stuff from the bottom of the pan, and let the mixture simmer until slightly thickened, ~2 minutes. Drain the lentils if soaked, and add them to the pot along with the bay leaf/herbs and vegetable stock or water (use the smaller amount if the lentils have been soaked). Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add frozen spinach (no need to defrost!) if using, and  1 1/2 teaspoons of salt (less if your stock is salted or you don’t like salt). Continue to cook, covered, until the lentils are very tender, about 10 minutes. Green lentils hold their shape well, so if you see some beginning to fall apart, the soup is probably done.

If using fresh spinach, stir in the spinach leaves and simmer until wilted, 1-2 minutes. Or, if you’re not serving all of the soup right away, save the spinach leaves and add them as you heat up individual portions of soup. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed and freshly ground pepper.

Serving suggestion: topped with freshly grated Parmesan and more pepper. Would go well with roast chicken, green beans, a lightly-dressed salad, and/or warm, crusty bread.

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