I love lentils. I grew up eating a lot of beans, but I didn’t discover lentils until I was in my forties. Imagine my delight when I realized I could cook a legume in just 30 minutes without presoaking! Lentils are something I can cook up fast if I haven’t figured out what to do for dinner that day, and you can throw just about anything in a pot of lentil stew. But they reward more thought and care.
Recently, Dennis and I went out for dinner and a movie. The best place to eat in our small town is a microbrew pub, Lassen Ale Works. I like to order the soups there. I think soup is where a cook gets to really strut his or her stuff, and often, you’ll get a chef’s most creative cooking in a soup. I saw linguica and roasted red pepper soup on the LAW specials board the other evening, and it sounded really good on a chilly night. It turned out to have lentils in it, and while I couldn’t find any roasted red peppers, the linguica was delicious.
I went home resolved to see if I could come up with something similar, and I have. My spicy sausage and lentil soup doesn’t have any linguica in it (because I didn’t have any), but if you can score some hot smoked paprika for my sausage and lentil soup, you’ll get one of the essential flavors of linguica without the price tag. Ground pork sausage is much more economical than linguica. Just look at the price per pound the next time you go to the grocery store and decide which fits your budget. Ground sausage fits mine. I used a combination of pork sausage and bear sausage.
Spicy Sausage and Lentil Soup
1 cup lentils
3 cups water
1 lb. ground pork sausage (medium or hot)
6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
4 carrots, diced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stick celery, diced
1 small (or half of one large) red bell pepper, diced
Ground black pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste
1 teaspoon smoked hot paprika
½ teaspoon Cajun seasoning
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried tomato skin powder (optional)
In a large pot, bring water and rinsed and sorted lentils to boiling, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until lentils are tender and most of the water has been absorbed, about 30-45 minutes.
While the lentils are cooking, crumble and brown sausage. Remove sausage from skillet, drain on paper towels, and drain fat from skillet. Add a little olive oil (enough to just coat the bottom of the pan), and sauté the vegetables (start with the hardest vegetables first) until they have taken on a little color. When vegetables are done, turn off heat and add minced garlic. Cook for one minute. Set aside until lentils are done.
To the cooked lentils, add the sausage and vegetables, then pour in at least 5 cups of stock. (I used a combination of mushroom stock, because it needed to be used up, and chicken stock.)
Add ¼ – ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, a good pinch of red pepper flake if you like spicy (I used my hot Nigerian red pepper), the dried tomato skin powder (if you have it), the other spices, and a little salt if needed, all to taste. (When I made this, it didn’t need any extra salt. There is a little salt in the Cajun seasoning I like).
Let the soup come up to a simmer and cook it for at least 20 minutes to blend the flavors and tenderize the sausage. If you can let it cook longer, the soup gets even better. I like to cook it on a very low heat until the lentils are just barely holding their cute little shape (about 2-3 hours). This thickens the soup a little bit. Add more stock if needed to keep the soup at the consistency you like, and if you add stock, taste for seasoning.
This makes a big pot of hearty soup, suitable for at least 4 people (with leftovers possible).
Add a salad and some nice crusty bread, and you won’t need anything else. Except maybe some ice cream for dessert.
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