One advantage to living in Paris is that it’s almost impossible to take a bad photograph. Even a blurry picture of a rain-soaked shop front snapped just when a customer is struggling to open her umbrella evokes that je ne sais quoi about Paris. I still have a lot to learn, especially about indoor photography, but if there’s one lesson above all that I’ve learned, it’s that it’s impossible to make lentil soup pretty.
This winter I’ve eaten more homemade vegetable soup than I did in the last two decades. It’s cheap, fast and nutritious. And it’s a good way to counterbalance all those luxury brownies and cranberry, pecan and white chocolate cookies I’ve been eating.
This butternut squash and lentil soup is a riff on the lentil chestnut soup from www.justhungry.com. That recipe calls for stock cubes, which I rarely use, but water worked fine. Just make sure to add enough salt, pepper and herbs. I omitted the honey or molasses from the original recipe too, as I felt that the onions and squash lent enough sweetness. Ever since I made a Moroccan sweet potato salad with olives and cayenne pepper, I've loved the combination of hot pepper with sweet starchy vegetables, so I added a pinch of cayenne. Also, I don't have a blender, so wasn't able to purée the soup. It wasn’t pretty, but tasted great, especially with a dollop of crème fraiche on top.
Butternut squash and lentil soup
1 cup dried green lentils, rinsed and examined for small stones or other debris
2 cups of peeled butternut squash cubes, either raw or cooked
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Butter or oil
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
big pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
Crème fraiche or sour cream for serving
In a large saucepan or pot, sauté the onion in about one tablespoon butter or oil until soft. Add 6 cups of water, the bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil and add lentils. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are cooked. If using raw squash cubes, add them now and continue simmering for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the squash is cooked and the soup is thick. If the squash was already cooked, let the soup simmer without the squash for 15 to 20 minutes or until thick. Then add the cooked cubes and simmer for about 5 minutes until they are heated through. Fish out the bay leaf. If you want a smooth soup, purée it with a stick blender. Add salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste. Spoon into bowls and serve with crème fraiche or sour cream.