Tag Archives: beans

Truly quick, truly homemade: Lentil Soup

I am so excited. I have a new cookbook. The River Cottage Family Cookbook
and from looking at the photographs, I can revel in the fact that there is someone out there who is as messy in the kitchen as I am.

Although none of the recipes are new to me, the format and the message are so appealing.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (sounds SO British!) and Fizz Carr are all about eating local and organic whenever possible and not shying away from the realities of food i.e.: beef actually comes from steer, sausage might be pork which is a pig.  We try to eat healthily and responsibly at our house and this book will be very inspiring.

The fun part was, the recipe that caught my eye called for things I already had in the pantry and the fridge.  So last night we had Lentil and Bacon Soup for Lots of People, only I halved the recipe because it was only the five of us, and since it was crazy Thursday, one of us was actually at music practice.  This is a fantastic soup recipe – incredibly quick and the perfect rainy evening meal. I ate three big bowls. On the side we had this goat cheese mash that I am always making with whatever the season suggests.  It’s very good.

A Fast Menu

Lentil and Bacon Soup

Goat Cheese, Garlic and Olive Oil Mash with Italian Crackers

I have no game plan for this because it’s so straight forward and fast that you really don’t need one!

Lentil and Bacon Soup – serves 4-6

(ok, ok – it looks like brown stodge but lentils aren’t loved for their beauty. Trust me – this soup has got your back)

  • 1 large onion (I used a red one)
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled
  • 2-3 celery stalks
  • 5 bacon slices
  • Olive oil
  • 1 3/4 cups lentils, half red, half brown or green
  • 1 1/2 quarts of stock (or water with 2-3 good bouillon cubes or boxed stock – I happened to have homemade beef broth in the freezer from Christmas ) – heated in a pot on the stove
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme – or a handful of fresh sprigs
  • 1 1/2 tsp tomato paste
  • Worcestershire Sauce – a couple of shakes
  • Shredded cheddar or parmesan
  1. Peel the onions and carrots. Wash and trim the celery.  Cut into 1″ chunks and pulse in the food processor until finely chopped – don’t go too far and make a soft, wet, mess.
  2. Slice the bacon into thin little shreds.
  3. Film the bottom of the pan with olive oil and turn the heat on low.  Add the onions, carrots, celery and bacon and stir.  Put the lid on the pan and let cook gently for 15 minutes.  The vegetables and bacon should soften and not brown much, shrinking down in the pan. Stir 2 or three times, every 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add the lentils and stir.  Clear a little spot in the middle of the pan and add the tomato paste.  Allow to cook for a minute, stirring.
  5. Add the stock and stir gently and turn the heat to medium.
  6. Grind into the pot a lot of black pepper and salt to taste – go carefully; with bacon and  Worcestershire sauce this could get overly salty easily.  Add the thyme and Worcestershire.
  7. Raise the heat and bring to a boil with the lid slightly askew. Simmer for half and hour; then taste to see if the brown or green lentils are quite done.  When the red lentils are soft and the green have a little firmness left, the soup is ready.  Taste for salt and serve with grated cheese at the table.

*a wiser person than I am – ok it was Nigella Lawson – wrote that she keeps bacon in the freezer in 5 slice packages – that would have been a good thing to have for this soup

Goat Cheese, Garlic and Olive Oil Mash

I love this stuff.  You can change what you add for flavor depending on the season. In the summer I use tender herbs like chives, basil, parsley, or cilantro.  A splash of cream.  Another of fruity green olive oil.  This variation is for winter.

  • 1 small log of soft mild goat cheese, 4-6 oz
  • a splash of fruity, peppery, green olive oil
  • a splash of cream
  • 2 small cloves of garlic
  • freshly ground black pepper

Mash the goat cheese with enough olive oil and cream to make it easy to spread and no longer at all crumbly.  Grate or crush the garlic using a microplane grater or a garlic press, and stir into the goat cheese. Add freshly ground pepper to taste.  Swirl artfully into a pretty bowl and drizzle more green olive oil on top, if you are feeling fancy.  Although if Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall saw you do that he might raise an eyebrow.  He doesn’t seem to go for frills or serving dishes.

The crackers I like are those ones referred to as crostini and are made of nothing more than flour and olive oil.  Sometimes they are seasoned with sea salt or rosemary.

Another kind of Thursday

The last time I wrote about a Thursday menu, I was crazily making lamb shanks and drinking elderflower laced champagne cocktails.  Well this is an entirely different kind of Thursday – still a crazy Thursday, but with a simpler menu.   This is a menu I could make with my eyes closed.   When my sister-in-law made this for us last spring – from a Swedish women’s magazine – I was skeptical.  Normally I wouldn’t make Middle Eastern inspired food from a Swedish recipe. I would go to Claudia Roden or something.  But this is a great, easy menu.   The recipes use ingredients you can find at any grocery store.  In the rare case that there are leftovers – they always get eaten up.  If for some reason you won’t eat lamb – just substitute ground chicken or turkey.

A Midweek Middle Eastern Inspired Menu from Sweden:

makes enough for 4 – or 2 grown-ups, 2 children and 1 toddler

  • Lamb Patties with Feta
  • Cannellini Purée with Basil and Garlic
  • Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Game Plan

  1. Mix and form the lamb patties
  2. Make the cannellini bean purée
  3. Prepare the salad, but leave the dressing until serving time
  4. Cook the lamb
  5. Dress the salad after flipping the lamb

Lamb Patties with Feta

  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp cream
  • 2 tbsp oats
  • 1/2 yellow onion, grated on the big holes in a box grater
  • 5 ounces feta, crumbled or cubed in small (1/4″) pieces
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • salt and pepper
  • mild olive oil for sauté

In a medium sized bowl, crack the egg and stir in the oats and cream.  Add the grated onion, the feta and the lamb, and salt and pepper to taste.  I would say a minimum of a 1/2  tsp of salt.  Mix well.  I use my hands because Marion Cunningham (Fannie Farmer Cookbook) told me to.  It will be painfully cold.  So I stand next to the sink and nudge on the hot water when I can’t take it anymore.  You may be less of a wimp than I.  When the ingredients are well combined, form them into 12 small patties. (about 2″ in diameter and a scant 1/2″ thick)  If you happen to be doing this in the middle of the day, it is fine to stack them on a plate (with plastic wrap separating the layers) and pop them in the fridge until ready to cook.

Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Don’t be impatient.  You want a hot pan because you want a delicious caramelized crust.  That’s what makes things taste good.  Add 1 tbsp of olive oil, watch it shimmer and lay the patties in the pan.  If you have got the heat  right, they will take 4-5 minutes per side.  Unlike rack of lamb, these are not meant to be rare.  Serve hot.

Cannellini Bean Purée with Basil and Garlic

One of the things I like about this puree is that it can be served cold and fairly stiff – like hummus.  Or it can be served warm and soft.  Its demeanor in the menu is like flavorful mashed potatoes, which is good for those trying to cut their carb intake. Cannellini prepared this way are so delicious, so incredibly easy, you won’t miss the pita bread or pilaf which would also be nice in this menu.  The menu as printed in Sweden used canned beans and that is fine – and very easy if you are serving the purée cold.  After using cans the first time, I tried cooking my own beans.  I like having the bean cooking water to thin the purée – and that the beans were still warm from cooking.  If you want the purée warm and have neither time nor energy to soak and cook beans, rinse them under the tap in a colander, and add  a little water to thin them out.  You could always heat them up on the stove or in the microwave.

  • 2 cans of Cannellini Beans or 1 cup dried cannellini, soaked and cooked, cooking water reserved
  • 3 tbsp or more olive oil – I like a green and spicy oil for this
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced, grated or through a garlic press
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil, washed, carefully dried and chopped, not too fine
  • Salt

Using a food processor, purée the beans and olive oil, adding a little bean cooking water or plain water to get the consistency you want.  Add the garlic and fresh basil by hand.  Taste for salt.  When I turn this out into a serving bowl I like to pour a little more green olive oil over the top.

Tomatoes and Cucumber Salad

This couldn’t be easier.  You could add romaine, red onions, toasted pita and sumac, to make fatoush.  But if it’s mid week, you may not have the energy.  I wouldn’t.  I might, if I had some lying around anyway, slice some red onion very, very thin, and soak it in water until the salad was served (so it’s not too sharply onion-y; learned that from reading Marcella Hazan).  That would still be easy and add good sprightly flavor.

  • 1 English cucumber
  • 1 pint of small tomatoes (if you are making this in the winter and you live in a cold climate, these are the only possible choice – big ones are too often mealy and flavorless)
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp vinegar

Peel the cucumber, slice lengthwise and, using a small spoon, scrape out the seeds.  Slice into 1/4″ slices.

Halve or quarter the tomatoes.  Combine in a medium bowl and toss with the olive oil.  Salt to taste, and add the vinegar.  If using romaine or onion, add those too.


To serve, I sometimes plate this in the kitchen to save washing serving dishes.   I would put a generous serving of the bean puree under 3 lamb patties.  The salad can cozy up next to the puree.  Fancy people might drizzle the puree with green olive oil and a sprig of basil.  Even not fancy people might, as it is so easy to do and it tastes so good!

Craving Soup: one easy method

I was totally let down by Marcella (Hazan) last week. Even though I have never met her and probably never will, I always think of her as a good friend. I can’t help it. It’s the way she writes – as if she were peering into your pot over your shoulder, watching you screw up. Her tone is so authoritative that I would try anything she says is delicious. Sometimes blindly following her lead doesn’t work out too well.

In the recipe for Barley Soup in the Style of Trent she promised: “…exceptional appeal from successive layers of flavor laid down by sauteed onion and ham, by rosemary and parsley and the diced potato and carrot, which [should have!] provided the ideal base for the wonderfully fortifying quality of barley itself.” Whatever, Marcella! It sounded so good but it tasted like watery gruel with bacon bits. We all hated it – the whole family. I couldn’t even imagine eating some for lunch the next day so I ran it all down the disposal. I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to admit to that. Oh well.

Here’s a soup that DID work well. Very well. And it’s so handy to have a recipe where you don’t actually have to have stock stored in the freezer. Although I have to say, I do – Marcella whipped me into shape on that one. As she so witheringly puts it:”…for the sake of practicality, alternatives are given for homemade meat broth, the hope here is that you ignore them, relying instead on the supply of good frozen broth you try always to have on hand”. Ouch. We can discuss broth later, I love to make chicken stock and it’s not a huge deal.

Bean and Pasta Soup, a recipe from Alice Waters in her book The Art of Simple Food, is easy, it makes your house smell good and it’s not asking too much to get a kid to try some. I like this recipe because, as I said, you don’t have to have any stock on hand and with her excellent exhortations on when and how to salt and taste, you can really mess around with it. Just follow the directions the first few times and then you can add other things, like kale or green beans or butternut squash or potatoes!

The original recipe calls for fresh shelling beans and the first few times I went out of my way to get some. They were delicious but dragging my kids down to Pike Place Market at what was either the very beginning or the tail end of the cranberry bean season (the classic bean to use for this soup) for limp scraggly looking specimens was a big pain and I don’t have time to consider if it’s bean season or not. Dried beans are very nice. Ms. Water’s suggested variation is to use a cup of dried beans and I always have a lot of cannellini in the cupboard anyway. You could use dried cranberry though – they’re easy to find in the bulk section.

Bean and Pasta Soup, 4-6 servings

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup finely diced red onion ( I use about 1/3 of a red onion – the behemoth type typical of grocery stores – use a whole one if you have a coddled, lovely, farmer’s market onion)
  • 1/4 cup finely diced carrot (I use about 2/3 of a medium carrot)
  • 1/4 cup finely diced celery (I use 2 stalks)
  • a pinch of dried chile flakes
  • 2 tsp coarsely chopped fresh sage. (get a plant and grow this somewhere in your yard, parking strip, whatever, you’ll make good use of it)

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. (I use a 7+ quart Le Creuset which is about right)

Add the vegetables, chiles and sage. Cook until soft, stirring now and then. Cook for 12 minutes. Set a timer. I do.

Now add:

  • 4 peeled and roughly chopped garlic cloves
  • Sea Salt

Cook for 2-3 minutes

Now TASTE. This is important. This is the thing I learned from Alice Waters. And it seems so simple and obvious now. Starting with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt – sea salt – add it and stir. Take a small spoon and taste the soffrito (which is what you call onions, carrot, celery etc). Is it good? Does it taste like you want to eat more of it? If not, add another 1/2 teaspoon. Maybe take it off the heat while you think about it so you don’t burn your carefully softened vegetables. As you make more soup, you won’t have to do this as often. But the first two or three times, taste very carefully every time before you add the next layer of flavor.


  • (1) 12 ounce can of whole tomatoes, drained of their liquid and chopped (add the liquid that comes out of the chopped tomatoes though)

Cook for 5 more minutes. Then add your beans.

  • 1 cup cannellini beans soaked and cooked with a few crushed garlic cloves, peppercorns and a bay leaf, broth reserved
  • Sea Salt

I use a slotted spoon to scoop the beans out of the pot and then ladle their broth into the soup pot until everything is covered up by about a 1/2 inch. Simmer over low heat, stirring sometimes. 15 minutes more or less. The soup is complete now except for the pasta. You could stop here and serve it tomorrow. But if you are going to do that, don’t add the pasta until just before you eat.

Cook 1/4 pound of tiny pasta, ditalini, orzo – that’s what I like – in salted water. When they are done, drain and add to the HOT soup. (If you are reheating don’t add pasta until the soup is good and hot – pasta will soak up all the nice broth and you will have a large bowl of stodge)

If you have a large wide soup plate, now would be the time to use it.

Garnish with:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated.

I like the California olive oil in the tall skinny green bottle from Trader Joe’s for this. It’s got a taste like artichokes and a nice peppery finish.

* I really hope you won’t resort to canned beans for this recipe – did you know they are cooked right in the can!?!?! At least that’s what I heard. There’s nothing wrong with canned beans per se. It’s just that you won’t get any of the good bean broth that way – only that sticky nasty stuff.