Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ham and Lentil Soup

With most of the country buried in snow, and so sign of winter letting up it's a good time for hearty soups. This Ham and Lentil Soup is something that I tried out a couple years ago as an alternative to my usual ham and white beans. Every time I roast a ham, he eat the left-overs in various forms (e.g. Ham and Cheese Scallop Potatoes, or Broccoli Ham and Cheese Casserole) and then I'm left with the bone and the remaining meat that is still clinging to it. I usually put the bone in a pressure cooker along with some onion, garlic, water and dry beans and then cook it for a couple hours. I'm left with a deliciously thick and creamy ham and bean soup/stew that I serve with homemade bread. Well, one time I decided that I wanted to do something different.
   I had recently bought some brown lentils that were on sale, and I didn't have anything in mind to use them. So, I figured I would make a lentil soup. I had a ham bone in the freezer (because I freeze them when I don't have time to use them right away). I covered the ham bone (and remaining meat) with water; added in some onion and garlic and let it boil away for a few hours - until the meat fell off the bone and the bone itself separated easily at the joint. I made a simple ham stock. After removing the bone and meat I was left with about 4 quarts of stock, so that is what I used to make my lentil soup. Of course, you could use less and make a smaller pot of soup (if you don't have a small sports team to feed like I do).
   This soup is not your typical lentil soup. It's not pureed at all, and the lentils still hold their integrity. As you can see in the photo above, each component is easily recognizable but they all work together so harmoniously that there is no one flavor that over-powers the others. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can easily make this soup using vegetable stock and omit the ham all together. I have been crazy for avocados lately, so I like to top my soup with some diced avocado. It's SO good!
   Ok, back to the soup. It is seriously so simple to make. Like I mentioned before, I made a big pot of it so that my family and I could have a few meals out of it, but it can easily be cut down to size.

Here's how it starts:

Chopped onions, carrots and celery go into the soup pot with just a little bit of butter. (If you are vegan, just substitute oil).

Then I added some garlic, salt, freshly ground black pepper, dry thyme, and a dry bay leaf. I saute the veggies over medium heat for just a minute or two.

Then I rinse off the lentils (after I have picked through them for any pebbles that can sometime creep into the bag of lentils)

and add the lentils to the veggies.

Next comes the ham stock (or veggie stock if you prefer). After the mixture comes to a boil, I turn it down to a simmer and let it go, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes I check the lentils to see if they are tender. If not, I let it go for another 10 minutes or so, but usually they are done at this point. You want them to be like good pasta. Tender but still a little bite to them. This is when I add in my ham pieces that I got from the bone. (Of course you can omit if you are an animal lover and not an animal eater. . . I happen to be both.)

Stir the ham in to warm through and remove the bay leaf. Taste it for seasoning (see if it needs more salt and pepper), and it's done!

Nothing else left to do but serve and eat. I really enjoy it this way, but if you are a more traditional lentil soup person and like it to be creamier and a little less chunky then you can always blend part of it (before adding the ham). Leaving everything whole really is the way to go, though.
   And if you happen to have some avocado laying around, a few dices on top send this soup over the top!
Here's the recipe: As with most of my recipes, feel free to change it up to your tastes. If you want to add more or less of any veggie than feel free to do that. Same goes for the ham and lentils. I think the soup is perfect as is, but everyone's tastes are different and that's o.k. Make food that you want to eat and that will bring you and your family the most joy. That's what cooking is all about anyway. Sharing the love. :)

Ham and Lentil Soup

1 Tbsp butter (or oil) (this could be optional, of you are looking to cut a few calories)
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced onion
2 tsp minced garlic
salt (to taste)
freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
1 dry bay leaf
1 tsp dry thyme
1 1/2 cups dry lentils
4 quarts ham stock
1 1/2 cups chopped ham

In a large soup pot, add the butter (or oil), veggies, garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaf and thyme. Stir and cook over medium heat for 1 minute while you rinse the lentils. Add the lentils, and stock to the pot. Bring it up to a boil and then down to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Taste for seasoning. Add the ham to heat through and remove the bay leaf. Serve warm, topped with avocado (optional).

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