Crockpot Lentil Soup with Optional Parsnip and Kale

My daughter, Michelle, moved to California after getting married last June. She is a newly-inspired cook and it is so exciting for me to learn new recipes and plating ideas from her. A few weeks ago, when the weather was very cold on both coasts, she asked me to share some crockpot soup recipes with her. A crockpot soup would allow her to quickly start the soup before leaving to school in the morning and enjoy it for dinner with her husband, Scotty.

This soup is one of our family favorites, so simple to prepare and so hearty and delicious. Best of all, lentil soup can be easily frozen. It can be made with either brown lentils or red lentils and can be combined with many different types of vegetables and spices.

 The most common brown lentil has the seed hull intact and is most suitable for salads and soups that require the lentil to retain its shape.   Brown lentils may be used in this recipe and will yield a soup with more structure, even when pureed.
Red, yellow, and orange lentils have the hull removed, are milder and will disintegrate and fade in color during slow cooking.  These types of lentil are best for a pureed soft-bodied lentil soup.  The final soup will have a creamy texture similar to a smooth split pea soup.
lentils for soup
Both types of lentils yield a delicious soup.  I have found that the brown lentil is more readily available and slightly lower in price.  The red lentil requires less crockpot time, so if you are short on time, try the red lentils. Do not be disappointed to find that the red lentil fades to a yellow color when cooking.
Once you have tried both types of lentils, the choice is yours.  Try both brown and red lentils to see which one you prefer.

RED LENTIL SOUP

lentil soup 2

BROWN LENTIL SOUP

 

brownlentil soup up close

Oftentimes, when I am cooking many different dishes, I saute a large batch of onions (sometimes with fresh minced garlic) in my largest saute pan.  I use what I need for various dishes and then freeze the rest in small Ziploc bags or ice cube trays for future use. Crockpot soups are a great way to use these frozen sauteed onions and/or garlic.
I have left the seasonings of this soup to you.  I like my lentil soup to have some spiciness with red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper, but that can easily be left out.   I use about 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt and a generous pinch of black pepper.  The seasoning can be added at the beginning, can be added in layers throughout the cooking or  can wait to be added at the end. I find that when I wait to season the soup until the end, I tend to use much less salt.
Know your crockpot and which settings to use.  I cook my soup on the high setting of my six quart crockpot for 6-9 hours and only turn it down to low or auto once the soup has been completed.  Your crockpot may need to be set to auto for the duration of the cooking. If you are not sure, start your soup at high.  Check on the soup after 5 hours.  If it tastes ready, then turn it down to auto or low until serving. If not, cook the soup for longer, checking every hour.
 I usually keep this soup pareve and use water as the base.  Using vegetable or chicken stock will add depth and richness to the soup.  You can use any combination of water and stock as your liquid component.

This soup is forgiving and you can add any fresh or frozen vegetables that you enjoy.  I prepared this soup today using lentils and barley.  I added some sliced parsnips, some frozen pre-washed kale and topped it off before serving with fresh green scallions and a slice of lime for added color and crunch.  I would love to hear what ingredients you have added to this recipe and how it worked out.

INGREDIENTS FOR A 5-6 QUART CROCKPOT
one bag (16 ounces or 2 cups)of rinsed lentils (any variety-see notes)
1/4 cup of barley or acini de pepe (optional)
sauteed onions and/or garlic (optional)
salt
pepper
red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper (optional)
water, stock or any combination
1 cup of soaked and rinsed fresh or frozen kale or spinach (optional) (see kosher notes below)
peeled and sliced carrots or parsnips (optional)
sliced celery (optional)
peeled and sliced zucchini (optional)
soaked, rinsed and sliced scallions (optional)
lentil soup 2
DIRECTIONS
Place lentils, barley or acini de pepe, sauteed onions and/or garlic, vegetables and seasonings into crockpot. Fill crockpot 3/4 to top with water and/or stock.  Cook on high from morning to evening.  If the soup is too thick, add up to a cup of water and stir well. Carefully blend with a stick blender and garnish with scallions before serving.
SHORTCUTS
When in a hurry, I skip the sauteed onions/garlic and add a half bag of rinsed whole baby carrots to the crockpot.  Right before serving, I use my stick blender to blend the soup and carrots. This creates a very thick and hearty lentil soup with very little prep time.
NOTES
Red lentils will fade during cooking and will fall apart to create a soft-textured soup. Brown lentils will retain their color and shape better, yielding a firmer textured lentil soup.  Find your favorite!
I love to serve a spicy lentil soup using red pepper flakes and/or cayenne pepper.  It is also delicious if served with a wedge of fresh lemon or lime as a garnish.  The fresh and sour citrus taste plays off well with the texture and spiciness of the soup.
This soup is extremely thick and hearty, the type of soup that you can just about eat with a fork. If you prefer a thinner soup, just decrease the amount of lentils or increase the amount of liquid.

brown lentil soup

This soup freezes extremely well. Cool soup and decant into freezer-safe containers or freezer-type zipper bags before freezing. Just defrost and reheat. Add fresh herbs and water if necessary to freshen it up.

For a delicious gluten-free option, skip the barley and acini de pepe or substitute with brown sushi rice.

It is always wonderful to garnish a slow-cooked soup with some fresh herbs. Once ladled into a bowl, top with soaked and rinsed scallions, chives, dill or parsley for a bright green counterpoint to the soup.

KOSHER NOTES

Kosher laws disallow the eating of  any whole insects and therefore most herbs and greens require a process of soaking, rinsing and in some cases, pureeing.  I have found that flat-leafed greens like baby spinach and flat-leaf  kale are much easier to check for insects than their curly-leaf counterparts.  Kashrut authorities differ on the proper checking of leafy vegetables and some disallow the use of spinach and kale altogether.  This blog was not designed to be your  kosher authority, so please consult your local rabbinic authority regarding using greens such as spinach and kale.

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