Like so many others, when the new year approaches, I begin to entertain thoughts of healthier eating. I imagine spending all of December 31 sweeping out my refrigerator and pantry, getting rid of the crackers, chocolate (even the baking kind) and oozy cheeses, and replacing them with kale, flax seed meal and dried beans.
Most years I don’t actually tackle such extreme measures. Instead I just take steps to add a few more virtuous items to our regular menu. Come January the number of leafy greens found in my kitchen will outnumber the cheeses (sadly, not the case at the moment) and I’ll start packing more lunches for my husband and me.
One way that I fill our lunch bags is with homemade soup. I cook up a batch at the beginning of each week and portion it out into microwave-safe containers each night before I go to bed. That way it’s easy to grab come morning. These soups are often bean and vegetable based. Some weeks I do a black bean soup from dried beans; other weeks I stick to pantry basics like canned white beans and boxed stock.
Recently I’ve been making a simple Lentil Soup using Alton Brown’s recipe as my guide. It makes a generous amount, is incredibly cheap to make (good if you’re watching your wallet as well as your waistline) and can happily simmer on the back burner on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. All these things make it perfect for The Weekender.
Before you start simmering, here are a few things you should know:
- Take it easy on the salt in the beginning. Alton calls for two teaspoons of salt and I found that it was a bit much in the finished soup (I think my stock was quite salty). Either find low-sodium stock (if you’re using store bought) or cut back on the salt during cooking.
- To puree or not to puree? The recipe suggests that you puree the soup. As you can see from the picture, I didn’t with this batch. What I like to do is puree about half way through the batch of leftovers. That way I don’t feel like I’m eating the same soup all week long.
- Add the tomatoes toward the end. I’ve found that if you cook legumes with tomatoes from the very beginning, they don’t soften as well. If you add the tomatoes once the lentils are tender, you ensure your chances for a successful soup.
- Think of this recipe as a base and start experimenting with other flavors. It’s excellent curried and topped with plain yogurt just before serving or made with extra garlic and a hint of cayenne for spice-loving palates.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, also called Food in Jars, will be published by Running Press in spring 2012.