A simple treatment of a hardy pulse makes French Lentil Soup a staple of beginners French cooking.
Protected as they are by the same laws for Parmigiano-Reggiano and many European wines, the lentille du Puy is a dark green-gray varietal (Lens esculenta puyensis) grown in the village of Le Puy-en-Velay for thousands of years. Fans claim it has a slight earthy, peppery flavor, a unique terroir attributed to the local volcanic soil, as well as an ability to hold its shape and texture better while cooking.
This soup is among the first recipes taught to students in French culinary schools, and it shares a great deal of similarities with other French, German and Italian soups simply due to cultural proximity. It is little more than a basic vegetable soup with lentils added for bulk, but its flavor is a lesson in delicate balance, and it is ripe for further customization.
As Le Puy (also known as petite-style) lentils can be difficult to source in some areas, this recipe can easily substitute the more widely available green or brown varieties. The Lens culinaris subspecies are among the oldest crops cultivated by mankind, and their mild flavor, ease of preparation and long shelf-life make them an excellent base for any number of dishes.
The version presented here is vegetarian, relying on a start of rich, creamy butter for its base of flavor. Other versions include bacon instead, or a later addition of ham or other pork to make the dish a more substantial meal. However, additional protein is not necessary, and this soup is easily adapted for vegan tastes.
Serve with grated Parmesan and a drizzle of quality olive oil.
French Lentil Soup
1 c green lentils
½ yellow onion
2 stalks celery
1 clove of garlic
6 c chicken stock
2 T tomato paste
½ t thyme
½ t cumin
1 T red wine vinegar
1 Cover the lentils with boiling water for 15 min. Drain and set aside.
2 Chop all the vegetables and sauté in a little butter until soft, about 10-15 min. Work in the thyme, cumin and tomato paste, and season to taste.
3 Add the stock and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 45 min. Finish with the vinegar.