Bean Fest, Episode 8: Really Good Lentil and Whole Grain Soup

photo by wollongonger

Welcome to Bean Fridays, our ongoing series highlighting the beautiful bean.

We had a brief hint of winter here this week, three days of chilly grey skies and lingering drizzle. I was in heaven–but it didn’t last, and we’re heading into another heat wave. But anyway, that taste of winter put me in the mood for soup.

So today I’m going to share my favorite soup recipe. I’m stretching the rules a bit to put it here, because it’s not a bean dish, but it does involve lentils. One of its great merits is that its what I call a pantry soup. If your pantry is well stocked, you’ll have what it takes to make it or improvise something similar and equally good. And needless to say, it’s easy to make, or I wouldn’t make it.

This recipe comes from The Paris Cookbook by Patricia Wells, where it’s called Oliviers & Co’s Provencal Three-Grain Soup. With a provenance like that you know that even if it is packed with wholesome ingredients, this isn’t going to be one of those bland “healthy” soups.

You’ll need:

1/3 cup spelt
1/3 cup pearl barley
1/3 dark green lentils
3 leeks, white portion only — or an onion or two–finely chopped or sliced into thin rounds.
2 carrots, chopped
2 bay leaves
1/2 t. of fresh or dry thyme
1 head of garlic, all the cloves peeled
1 28 oz. can of tomatoes/or your own canned tomatoes
Sea salt
Olive oil

  • Notes on the grains: Use whatever whole grains you have on hand, from wheat berries to quinoa, one type or a blend, as long as it measures 2/3 cup. I’ve used all spelt, all barley, even rice, I think– it all tastes the same once it’s in the soup. The variable is texture and eye appeal. The little dark (greenish black brown) lentils called lentilles de Puy are really the best for this, because they hold shape so well. You may find other small lentils, like those little black lentils, work too. But whatever you have will be fine–it’s just that some other types of lentils, like the pink ones, tend to dissolve in soup rather than staying firm. If you don’t have lentils, the soup could be all grain, or you could substitute with pre-cooked beans, adding them in toward the end.

Rinse your grains and lentils off in a fine colander, set aside.

Put about a tablespoon of olive oil, about 1 teaspoon of sea salt, the herbs, leeks or onions, and carrots in a heavy bottomed soup pot. Turn the heat on fairly low and cook them covered for about five minutes, so they soften but don’t brown. This is called sweating.

Add the whole can of tomatoes, juice and all, then add about 5 cups of water.  Bring this to a simmer.

Add the grains, lentils and all those garlic cloves (The garlic cloves are the secret weapon! If you or your family is garlic shy, don’t worry, the soup doesn’t taste very garlicky when it’s done.)

Simmer covered until the grains are tender, about 45 minutes, depending on the grains.  Add more water if necessary, to keep it at the thickness you prefer.

Test for seasoning. Add some fresh ground pepper, and serve in bowls drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. Don’t skip the olive oil swirl. It really makes it, somehow.

It’s that easy, and that good. I usually double this recipe for leftovers.

Note re: leftovers: The grains soak up all the liquid when the soup is sitting in the fridge, leaving the soup a semi-solid mass–so you’ll have to add a good deal of water when you go to reheat. This doesn’t effect flavor at all. It’s an excellent leftover type soup.

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  1. I really, really appreciate the substitution commentary in the recipes you’ve been posting lately. It is so helpful when tying to riff on a recipe with things I’m unfamiliar using…we’re learning to love greens and whole grains here. I also love any recipe that can come mostly from the pantry.

    We’ll be trying this over the next few days.

  2. Going on a bit of a tangent, I’ve read that the phytic acid from beans can prevent absorption of calcium (being vitamin D deficient awhile ago, I unfortunately have pretty pathetic bone mass for someone my age). the solution for those concerned is to soak the beans in water, but then discard that water. Also unrelated (sorry!) I can’t seem to find the post about these harlequin bugs you guys made I think earlier this summer? The bugs are kind of brightly colored, something like so:

  3. @mjlai:

    I don’t remember us posting about harlequin bugs this summer. Homegrown Neighbor posted about bean weevils back in July, but they’re not the same.

    I’m trying to remember if we’ve ever posted about them. It’s embarrassing, but I totally forget what we’ve covered or not and have to go digging around the site to remember. Anyway, as far as I can tell, we haven’t.

    Did you have questions about them?

    We only had one outbreak. They were swarming all over our tree collard one year–it was well past its prime–needed to be cut back or taken out–and they’d moved in. I set the chickens on them, and that took care of it pretty fast.

    They like cabbage-family crops–so you’ll find them getting into mustard, cabbage, broccoli etc. They seem to be attracted to decaying plant materials–brown leaves, etc., as well as sick and stressed plants, so it makes sense to keep the garden bed clean and to pull sickly plants pronto. And to clean up well at the end of the season if you’ve had them. They overwinter in debris.

    The only organic control I know of is hand picking.

  4. Made this soup on Tuesday and it was so good. It fulfilled food cravings I did not even know that I had. So delicious, I did modify a little by adding some thick sliced bacon but other than that just the same recipe.

  5. Many thanks for posting the Patricia Wells recipe for Lentil and Whole Grain Soup. I have one of her books with the recipe in it – but it doesn’t say when to add the garlic! Now I know, so thank you 🙂

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