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At Fromaggio in Essex Market, I spied a box of French Puy lentils for eight dollars. Seriously? Eight dollars for lentils? I knew if I brought them home Matt would be unimpressed. Unless, of course, they sprouted into a magic beanstalk.
Luckily, I live near a little Indian market with shelves piled with inexpensive spices (amchoor powder, anyone?) and dried goods. Squelching my desire for a collection of curry powders and mango pickles, I scored a cheaper bag of pretty green french lentils and headed home to look at recipes.
Maybe it's just me, but I'm stingy with my homemade stock. We can only store a few containers of it in our teeny freezer, and I hate to be caught without any. It's hard to deem an unknown recipe stock-worthy. (Remember Elaine carefully budgeting her sponges on Seinfeld? It's like that...sort of.) So I was pleased to realize I could make a huge pot of hearty lentil soup while still saving some stock for a winter cold. I used lamb to deepen the flavor of the tomato broth, and spiked it with a little sake (sherry would work great if you have it.)
In a flash of inspiration before I served this up, I added a bit of homemade pesto to the pot. I save this in ice cube-sized portions in the freezer, and it deepened the flavor nicely.
I hate to give exact times in a recipe for slow cookers. You alone know how hot or slow your machine cooks, and how mushy you like your lentils. In my six-quart Cuisinart slow cooker, this took a long time. You could probably speed it up by cranking up the heat. Or just go about your business and let it cook all night and the next day unsupervised. That's the beauty of these things.
Slow Cooker Lamb and Lentil Soup
Serves at least 4 with leftovers
2 lamb shoulder chops with bone or about 1 pound other stew meat
1 strip bacon, chopped roughly
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 clove garlic, chopped roughly
3 carrots, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon harissa (optional)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil or a bunch of fresh basil leaves if you have them
1/2 teaspoon oregano
freshly ground pepper
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes with liquid
3 cups chicken or turkey stock
2 teaspoons sherry or sake or wine
1 cup green lentils
2 tablespoons prepared pesto
Pasta (corkscrews or shells are good)
grated cheese for serving
Salt and pepper
Place first twelve ingredients in the slow cooker. Pour tomatoes over. Fill empty can with water and add that water to slow cooker as well. Add stock, sherry or sake or wine, and lentils, stir, leaving meat on the bottom of the pan. Cook on high one to two hours, depending how hot your slow cooker is. Turn to low and cook at least 8 hours. Check lentils and carrots at this point. If they seem too crisp to you, keep cooking. When ready to serve, remove meat from bones and discard bones. If you like, whir this for thirty seconds with an immersion blender to thicken the broth, or blend a few ladlesfull in a food processor. Leave the rest chunky. Stir in the pesto. Boil water on the stovetop and prepare pasta according to package instructions, a large handful per person is plenty. Place pasta in bowls and ladle soup over, garnishing generously with grated cheese, salt, and freshly ground pepper.