As you’re already well aware, this is a surreal moment in history, with much of the world’s population on lockdown, under mandatory or recommended stay-at-home orders. Here in Paris, we’ve been en confinement, as the expression goes, since March 17th and we still have a couple more weeks to go.
Among other things, this means we have to do most or all of our own cooking at home, using whatever ingredients we can get our hands on. At a time when we’re supposed to keep trips to the outside world to a minimum, what are the best shelf-stable foods to choose? In the panic-buying rush, most people seemed to think of pasta first, wiping supermarket shelves clean of all its forms. As for me (and I don’t know how many others did this, since I went into self-isolation earlier than the rest of the country), the first place I went was the lentil aisle!
Lentils are quite amazing. They’re super nutritious, not only rich in protein, but also B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and potassium. They furthermore have the highest antioxidant content of all legumes and keep you feeling full for a long time – amazingly enough, even after a different meal later the same day! They’re very yummy too.
I tend to go with dry lentils rather than canned, as they’re less expensive, easier for pedestrians like me to carry home (no water weight), can easily be purchased in bulk (no packaging to throw out or recycle) and take up less room in your pantry.
Even after the lockdown period is over, lentils will be a good thing to have on hand. They can be kept for a year or two without going bad and are a quick fix when you have nothing else in the house and can’t go out for whatever reason.
For those of you who may be new to lentils, or just haven’t had them lately, I thought I’d share a super easy recipe for lentil soup. I’m calling it “lockdown lentils” in reference to these strange times, but also because it can be modified endlessly to accommodate whatever seasonings you have on hand while locked down. The only two ingredients you absolutely need are lentils and water – everything else is optional! I’m nevertheless including some recommended ingredients and spices that take them to another level. Feel free to substitute other things as needed.
The type of lentil you use is also up to you. In the photos shown here I’ve used green, but you could also use brown, yellow, red or beluga (black) lentils. Note, however, that red lentils become mushy as they cook, so a red lentil soup will be thicker than the one you see here.
To make your lentils go farther, serving more people or stretching out over more meals, serve it over a nutritious cooked grain such as brown (whole-grain) rice, spelt or buckwheat.
Makes 2 servings
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion (50 g), any color
- 1 or 2 cloves fresh garlic
- Half a carrot (50 g)
- Half a medium to large potato (75 g)
- 1 cup (175 g) dry lentils
- 4 cups (950 ml) cold water
- Half a vegetable bouillon cube or salt to taste
- 1 dried bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon each thyme, rosemary, oregano etc.
- unsweetened plain soy cream or yogurt (optional)
- fresh cilantro (coriander) or parsley leaves, for garnish
- balsamic vinegar or soy sauce, to drizzle on top
Equipment needed: wire sieve
Drizzle a bit of olive oil in a saucepan and turn on the heat to medium-low. Dice the onion and heat it, stirring often, until soft and translucent. Meanwhile, dice the carrot and crush the garlic. Add the garlic to the saucepan and stir constantly for about 30 seconds, being careful not to allow the garlic to overheat or stick to the pan.
Add the diced carrots and continue stirring constantly. After about a minute, add the 4 cups water and stir the vegetables to dislodge anything that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cover the saucepan and turn the heat to high to bring the water to a boil.
While waiting for the water to heat, place the lentils in a wire sieve and rinse thoroughly. Check through the lentils to remove any rogue items such as tiny twigs or stones.
Add the lentils to the saucepan and continue to bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to low. Peel and dice the potato and add to the pot, along with the half-cube of bouillon (or salt), bay leaf and other herbs and spices. Stir to combine everything, cover the saucepan loosely and let simmer.
After about 25 minutes, the lentils should be cooked all the way through and the carrot and potato should be tender. Turn off the heat, stir and taste to adjust the seasonings. If it seems too salty, you can add a bit of extra water. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
Ladle the soup into bowls. If you like, you can top it with some unsweetened soy cream or soy yogurt (or other plant-based alternatives). Drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar or soy sauce over that and garnish with fresh herbs.
Variation: omit the potato and carrot and use less water to prepare lentils for use in a salad (I don’t recommend red lentils for this, since they become mushy when cooked).