For lunch a few weeks ago, we found a little trendy cafe on a busy pedestrian street in Luxembourg City, close to the centre. It was a quiet convivial space, just us, another guest, with a few staff milling about.
We had the mushroom ravioli with creamy tomato basil sauce, which was superb, but the other guest; a French-Italian man from Metz was having the most alluring soup.
I guess he was alluring too, the kind of man women noticed; well dressed, confident and charming, speaks a myriad of languages.
The soup, a steaming fragrant broth teaming with huge colourful chunks of vegetables and meat wasnâ€™t like any soup Iâ€™d seen before. It looked rustic and bold
He graciously brought his soup over for us to admire, the proud chef came over â€œahâ€¦ my beautiful manly soup!â€ he said with a laugh. The chef explained in French and broken English, while the â€˜alluring manâ€™ translated, the vibrant chunks of orange and green are carrots and leeks. Except at that time no one could remember the English name for leeks, not even us â€“ we werenâ€™t used to seeing big cuts of leeks in soup, especially not the green part.
The chef brought a bunch of scallions from the kitchen, â€œit’s like this, but biggerâ€ he said. It was at the tip of our tongues; we just couldnâ€™t remember the name. I tried google translate, but I must have spelt it wrong because I got tons of results for Inspector Poirot (the correct spelling, I found out later is poireaux).
â€œTry it!â€ the man carefully thrusts a spoonful of soup towards me, itâ€™s very temptingâ€¦ but I tell him that regrettably I donâ€™t eat meat and he looks me in the eye, quiets for a second and goes â€œWell, thatâ€™s too badâ€.
Iâ€™ve been sick, and over the weekend I was picking up some vegetables to make soup, thatâ€™s when I saw them; carefully displayed, bright and gleaming. â€œOh my God! LEEKS!â€ I remembered and exclaimed, startling the poor woman next to me.
This lentils and vegetables soup doesnâ€™t have leeks in it, I thought about itâ€¦ maybe next time. It does have carrots and the vibrancy of that unique soup from Luxembourg.
Itâ€™s the soup I usually fall on when Iâ€™m sick. It too is rustic and fragrant, comforting and deeply satisfying. It has warming ginger and cumin that is soothing when you have a cold, and packs enough heat to clear up the sinuses, thereâ€™s also fortifying protein and fibre from the lentils, and tang from the tomato paste.
The recipe for this soup is just a general guideline; add your favourite vegetables, herbs and spices, and anything else that makes this your perfect feel-good soup.
Thereâ€™s no way to make a small batch, I always end up with a large pot, and leftovers are plenty, which is fine with me because it comes in handy on weeknights like this.
A hot bowlful of this soup and a side of crusty bread for dinner on a night of a never ending downpour warms the soul.
Lentils and Vegetables Soup
- 1 lb (450 g or roughly 2 cups) Puy lentils (French green lentils)
- Olive oil
- 2 red onions, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 2 celery stalks/ribs, chopped
- 1 â€“ 2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme or dried thyme
- 3 liters (about 12 cups) vegetable stock or water
- 1 vegetable bouillon cube (I use Harvest Sun Vegetable Bouillon)
- 2 tablespoons red wine
- Salt to taste
- Soak lentils in a large bowl, covered in enough water for about 1/2 an hour, rinse, drain and set aside when done
- Heat some olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat, and sautÃ© onions, garlic, carrots, celery and jalapeno peppers for about 3 â€“ 5 minutes
- Next, add the tomato paste, cumin, ginger and pepper flakes and sautÃ© for another 5 minutes
- Add the lentils, thyme and vegetable stock and bouillon
- Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered up to an hour, stirring occasionally until lentils are cooked through (30 – 45 mins for firmer lentils)
- Add salt, check seasoning and add red wine
- Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, and or herbs (or toppings of your choice)