Hot days, warm soup

Deborah Madison’s green lentil soup

June 22, 2012

Lentil soups are a favorite on cold, wet days, but they’re surprisingly good on hot ones, too. Especially this soup, which has a huge amount of greens and a tart fresh sorrel sauce.

It’s park-bench green, but as refreshing as a pale green cucumber soup, and more substantial by far. The greens can be almost any, but the goosefoots — chard, spinach, beet greens, and others — are particularly well-represented here.

Summer lentil soup.

You needn’t stick to just one type of green; a mix is more interesting. Nettles and sorrel offer more piquancy, and if you have them, by all means use them. For herbs, dill and cilantro are featured, and for spices, toasted cumin and coriander.

I’ve made countless lentil soups with greens, usually without a recipe and just improvising with what’s around, and the combination is always excellent.

Do cover your lentils with boiling water while you start the soup. They’ll cook more quickly and leave the greens fresher than if they have to cook for 45 minutes.

Green Lentil Soup with Plenty of Leaves, Herbs, and Spices

1 cup lentils (any type but red; I prefer Le Puy)
1 large onion, diced (about 2 cups)
2 to 4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons toasted ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander seeds
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon medium-grain rice
A few pinches of red-pepper flakes
1 big handful of cilantro, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
1 smaller handful of dill, roughly chopped (about ½ cup)
12 cups (about 9 to 10 ounces each) packed greens, such as chard or a mixture of greens (see Note above), chopped into 1-to-2-inch pieces
Freshly ground pepper
Sorrel Sauce, below, or plain yogurt, or fresh lemon juice

Rinse the lentils, then cover them with boiling water and let stand while you gather and prepare the rest of your ingredients.

Heat the oil in a wide soup pot. Add the onion, give it a stir, and cook for about 5 minutes to soften some. Stir in the cumin, coriander, salt, rice, cilantro, and dill, and cook another 5 minutes or longer, then add the greens. Give them a stir, then drain the lentils and add them, along with 8 cups water or stock.

Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the lentils are sufficiently soft. If they soaked, it shouldn’t take much longer. Taste the soup for salt, and season with pepper.

At this point you can serve the soup just as it is with a dollop of yogurt or Sorrel Sauce, or you can purée the soup, ending up with a dark green soup that’s neither too thin nor too thick. Again, stir in the finishing yogurt or sauce or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice into each bowlful. Or if it’s just you, plan to eat this soup all week and feel the better for it. The soup makes two quarts and serves eight.

Sorrel Sauce with Yogurt or Sour Cream

2 cups sorrel leaves
1/3 cup full-fat yogurt or sour cream
Pinch or two of sea salt
Slivered chives or garlic chives

If the leaves are large, fold them and pull out the stems, then tear them into large pieces. Put them in a food processor with the yogurt, salt, and garlic, and purée. Stir in the chives and taste for salt before serving.

Related recipe: Sorrel Sauce with Yogurt or Sour Cream; recipe: Green Lentil Soup with Plenty of Leaves, Herbs, and Spices

There are 5 comments on this item
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1. by Fromagette on Jun 26, 2012 at 9:41 PM PDT

This was a great recipe. However, I think the weight is off for a cup of greens. If each cup is 10 oz, then you should be putting in 7.5 pounds of greens. I got close to that amount and realized that I was going to be hard pressed to fit it in our pan. I ended up doubling the recipe and it worked great. If I hadn’t doubled it, it would have been super thick.

2. by Deborah Madison on Jun 27, 2012 at 9:28 AM PDT

Just go by the volume, then. I’ll check the weight -and thanks for pointing that out - as soon as I can pick some more chard. Soups in general, and this one in particular, are pretty much about feeling your way as you go. You doubled it. That’s good. Too thick? You can always thin it!

3. by debra daniels-zeller on Jun 28, 2012 at 9:46 AM PDT

Wow this recipe is so great and it comes at the perfect time. My garden is overflowing with greens. I’d say the soup might taste best if you don’t choose greens that have been sitting too long. Are older greens more bitter? And do you know if hearty greens should be picked early in the day like lettuce? I heard the heat of the day turns lettuce bitter, that lettuce is sweetest in the early morning. Also, do you think parsley (curly) would be okay to use instead of dill?

4. by Deborah Madison on Jul 2, 2012 at 8:42 AM PDT

Thank you, Debra!
I think parsley would be fine, and so would lovage, or cilantro. I don’t know about the flavor being affected by the time of the day greens are picked. I do know that they seem to last longer and be perkier if you get them before it’s hot out - just like us humans. I just picked a mass of chard leaves this morning - some are big, some small, will try to taste them separately. I think they get more character as they get larger, but I don’t think they turn bitter.
I do know that as lettuce matures it’s bitterness comes out (all the edibles in the sunflower family have a bitter component).

5. by debra daniels-zeller on Jul 2, 2012 at 9:37 AM PDT

Thanks so much Deborah, I’m making the soup today!

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Deborah Madison, the celebrated cookbook author and local-food advocate, feeds us with her occasional reflections. Her latest book is Vegetable Literacy.

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