March 15th, 2009

Red Lentil Soup, part one: South Louisiana

I’m a city girl at heart, but whenever I get the chance to spend the day in the country at my friend Maggie’s, I’m in my little car motoring out to that cozy spread on Bogle-off-Burnt Knob before you can say Bogle-off-Burnt Knob.

Going there is not just a step out of the urban beat; it’s also a step back in time. Don’t get me wrong—everything’s up to 21st century techno-speed— but Maggie (with husband Steve) has created a lifestyle that moves on a slower track, harkens to simpler times.

In the growing season, a day in her life might take in tending garden tomatoes, making zucchini pickles, foraging wild blackberries but it will certainly include walking the grounds to admire the wildflowers, enjoying picnic lunch creekside under the boughs of an ancient tree, or having a coffee and toast on the sun porch— perfect for viewing bluebirds and chickadees at the feeder.

I’ve told Maggie–and she takes it as supreme compliment–that when I’m at her place, I feel like it’s 1978.

We hadn’t gotten together since harvest time last fall; with light green hints of springtime now emerging, I was anxious to visit: review garden plans, inspect the newly-tilled beds, discuss food and life,

And cook.

Maggie comes from a family with Italian and South Louisiana roots—there’s a compelling combo for good food–and she wanted to teach me her recipe for red lentil soup. It’s a common sense down-home recipe—as in down-south-louisiana-home cooking—using ingredients that are simple, readily available, and cheap.

The protein-rich red lentils provide more of a background and body for this soup while the andouille sausage imparts the spice and heat. The package of Savoie’s that she purchased at Publix was made as it has been for 60 years– in Steve’s hometown Opelousas, LA. A little of this lean sausage goes a long way on flavor.

“And, I guarantee,” Maggie said, “there won’t be an ounce of fat from it either.”

We used a quart jar of insanely sweet (candy!) tomatoes that Maggie had put up from last summer’s harvest—they melted into the soup—but it’s fine to use a can of your favorite red-gold.
I don’t know why I forget about cooking with cabbage; a young head, gently steamed–or poached as it is in this soup– is tender, and adds an earthy-sweet element.

Maggie often makes skillet cornbread—another great recipe I’ll share soon. She and Steve like to break up pieces of it into the soup. In the summer, she’ll scrape in some fresh Silver Queen corn.
Steve swears she’ll make a good cook out of me yet!

South Louisiana Style Red Lentil Soup
2 T. Olive Oil
2 Onions, chopped
4 stalks Celery, chopped fine
5 cloves Garlic, minced
6 Carrots, diced
10 oz. Andouille Sausage, sliced
1 cup Red Lentils, rinsed
1 qt. Tomatoes and juice (or 28 oz. can)
1 ½ qt. water
1 T. Salt
2 cups Cabbage, cut into medium shreds

Heat a large (6-8 qt.) stock pot, then coat the bottom with olive oil. Sauté onions until translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add celery, garlic, and carrots. Continue to sauté another 5 minutes, then stir in andouille sausage. Cook for 5 minutes, add lentils, diced tomatoes and juice, and water. Stir well and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally, so that the lentils, as they swell and break down, do not stick to the bottom. Add the cabbage last. Cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Serves 8 generously.

Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Soups/Stews | 13 Comments »