I ran into lentils in college, when one day I was starving and found this can of Progresso Lentil Soup. I really liked it, and when I got the bug to start cooking again, I spent a few moments on the internet and uncovered this recipe for lentil soup of Alton Brown’s.

The recipe really looks good, but it requires a bit more work than I’d like. I really don’t want to be toasting cumin seeds when I’ve never owned a cumin seed before, and the spice grains of paradise was also a bit confusing. I also wasn’t too keen on blending the soup, as I like my lentils intact.

The eye opener came a bit later, when I ran into Mark Bittman’s recipe for Improvised Vegetable Soup. He called it a soupy dal, and it was fairly easy to see in comparison to Alton’s recipe that this was an archetype of a way to make a wide variety of soups, as opposed to a single soup. The scaffolding of this kind of food preparation is straightforward. You let the onions, carrots, and celery (plus whatever else you add) make the stock for you and then use the “main contents” to add food value, mouth feel, and then spice to taste.

I’ve tried a number of variants of this dish, but before I proceed with what I did I want to show a few more examples of this class of soups, prepared in interesting ways. The first is this mung bean soup recipe, in which the base vegetables and mung beans are cooked separately and then added together later. The second is a Luccan farro soup, both in the original incarnation and in Cooking 4 the Week’s variation. Finally, there is a fine Indian dish called a dal makhani, or “buttery lentils”, which is much richer than these soups, but can tell anyone something about Indian style spicing.

The latest version of a Bittman-esque soup ended up like this:

1 cup (8 oz) lentils, soaked while cutting veggies.
1/2 cup (4 oz) pearled barley, in 2 cups water, heated almost to simmer while cutting vegetables.
2/3 cup quinoa (eyeballed measure), washed 5x, then soaked while cutting..

1.5 carrots, chopped.
3 celery stalks chopped.
1 onion chopped.
4 mini pimentos (red, yellow, orange) chopped, seeded and deveined.
2 serrano peppers, chopped, seeded and deveined.
3 cloves of garlic, pressed.

chopped vegetables and garlic were sauteed in oil (2 tbsp, olive +something), 7 minutes. Added barley and then lentils, added an inch of water above, and allowed the soup to simmer. Heated an additional  quart of water while cooking food, added water when necessary (2-3x). I added the quinoa when judged about 15 minutes left to cook. Total cooking time was roughly 40-45 minutes.

The soup was spiced just before turning off heat.

spicing was..

50-50 salt and salt substitute to taste.
1 teaspoon garam masala (found at Publix).
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
~ 1/2 teaspoon jamaican curry powder (more for the yellow of the
turmeric than anything else)..
paprika, red pepper, parsley flakes, marjoram, freshly ground black
pepper, eyeballed.
habanero/mango sauce, maybe 1/4 cap full.

A serving of lentil soup with barley and quinoa.

A serving of lentil soup with barley and quinoa.