I Thought I Was Making Lentils not Soup

There is an unplanned lentil theme to start here.  That has a certain ironic humor about it since a theme of this blog is cooking adventures — and real adventures are rarely planned.

Lentils are easy to cook.  Or they are supposed to be, right?  They are apparently so easy that the bags I get do not have preparation suggestions other than “you are making soup”.  Not yet I wasn’t.  My quest was for plain lentils to go as a side with my meals this week.

As any inquisitive cook can do these days, I consulted a web search engine which gave me thousands of results.  Of course, there’s nothing fewer these days than thousands of results unless I’ve spelled my search criteria wrong or provided too much for it to know what I’m asking for.  It also seems that almost everyone on the Internet also wants to make lentil soup; but when someone is making plain lentils, we intuitively know if they are using red, white, yellow, green, or mauve.  Though hopefully not mauve because I think I may be confusing those with a bag of beads I’ve seen recently.

But from the thousands of mostly soup-related results, I did find a few suggestions on how to cook plain lentils.  Now equipped with a vague idea on how to do something simple, I figured I had it covered.  Lentils, one-and-a-half times that in water, cook until “tender”.

While cooking, I sometimes end up on the phone to catch up with relatives.  It is convenient since I have lots of time that doesn’t require intense thinking and I can talk and cook.  But what I should have been doing was not cooking my lentils as if they were rice.  And that right there was lesson #1.  Lesson #2 is that lentils continue to cook when removed from heat.  So the “tender and moist” look when removed from heat can quickly turn into “mushy and dry” if one is not careful.

As is my habit when I prepare something, I try it as intended and then determine if something else needs to be done with it.  I have rarely changed a recipe part way through to make a different-than-planned dish*, so I thought I could safely get away with serving the lentils as is. (* That’s more about stubbornness than proficiency.)

It took a couple of forkfuls at dinner to realize the lentils needed a Plan B that didn’t include weighing down the weekly trash with them.

The next morning I brought my old friends “onion” and “garlic” to the rescue accompanied by “carrots” and “vegetable broth” as support.  They were the clerics healing my savaged Lentil Warrior after battling the Cauldron of Death.  The end result of my lentil side-dish was a simple and tasty soup.  It could easily take rice to bulk it up, and I may even pull out a Bag of Spinach +1 to continue rounding it out.  Because, as has been said in another article, why serve leftovers the same way twice?

Lentil Polymorph Soup

2-1/2 c lentils

3-3/4 c water

  • Cook lentils until tender (requires monitoring, which I didn’t do, and that resulted in dry lentils … which resulted in soup!)

1 Large Sweet Onion, chopped small

1T garlic, minced

2 carrots, chopped small (would work with more, but this is what I had on hand)

4c vegetable broth

olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

  • Over low heat in a large skillet (I used a #10 cast iron Wagner, a Griswold clone), sauté onions and garlic in about 1T of olive oil — enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan.  Sauté until onions are soft and begin to change color.
  • Over low heat in a large pot (I used a 6 qt. stainless, the kind with the aluminum composite bottom), heat carrots in about 1T of olive oil until soft — I did these separately to conserve on time.  These could be done in the same pot, starting with the carrots, and adding the onions and garlic after about 5 minutes.
  • Remove pot from heat.  Add those nice, dry, barely edible lentils.  Add vegetable broth.
  • Return to medium heat and bring to a simmer, and then remove from heat.  Everything is already cooked.  If this boils, or simmers for too long, you may end up with paste.  I happen to like a “chunky” lentil soup, so no blending happens here.
  • Salt and Pepper can be added either to the entire pot, or per bowl.  I prefer per bowl to let everyone judge for themselves.
  • A drizzle of olive oil to each serving also helps make it a little more filling and add flavor — fat is flavor, and olive oil is good fat.

And there you have my adventure with lentils that polymorphed into soup.  After some advice on how to cook lentils, I now believe I know the right way… but I’ll wait to see how that works out before sharing.




2 thoughts on “I Thought I Was Making Lentils not Soup

  1. Two suggestions:

    1) When searching for recipes online, consult foodtv.com’s recipe search and weed out anything that wasn’t put there by Alton Brown as a first step. If he hasn’t offered instructions on preparation for an item, you are in deep waters, indeed, proceed with care.

    2) If you want recipes for lentils that aren’t soup, consult South Asian cooking sources for dal preparations. Most of them aren’t soup. Toovar dal and arhar dal are specifically lentils (as opposed to beans or peas which are also dal) used in Indian cooking. Be careful when looking at these preparations to make distinctions between whole dal and split dal preparations. They differ radically. But on the main, the Indians use split dal for soup and whole dal for not soup.

  2. Thanks for the tips! I plan to post a successful adventure in making lentils when that happens. But I have a feeling when I get the hang of it, it will be about as exciting as hitting a kobold with a two-handed sword.

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