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favourite lentil soup + just food


When I was going to culinary school, one of our instructors would frequently remind us that all of the fuss, the immense preparation for a 7:30 am cooking lab, the pressure, the precisely laid out plans of attack, the possible fear of inadequacy; it was all just for the sake of food. If you screwed up, the end result would still be edible and quite nourishing, perhaps with a touch more salt, the faintest splash of acid and a bit more time on the fire next time though.

And that was fine. The phrase certainly helped take some of the pressure off; not in a way that made you apathetic either. It just helped your hands to shake less when you were tying up roulades, mindful of the distant but aware gaze from the chef professor. You wouldn’t over-think it if you decided to throw a whole clove in to steep with a savory apple, onion and balsamic jam. You knew it would work and it freed you up to focus on your small dices, sautes, blanches, on and on. It helped us to consider the bigger picture.

The “just food” mantra has worked its way into my home cooking too.  Making soup used to be a rather daunting task to me. I always thought that soup was the one simple thing that showed real kitchen prowess. It was certain proof of authentic experience. Thinking of its transformative nature, its ability to turn inexpensive items, scraps, leftovers and afterthoughts into something comforting and whole, a dish with renewed purpose and character, was intimidating as hell to me.

When it finally kicked in that it was just food, an infinitely variable nourishing substance no matter the end result, the soups started tasting a lot better. I take my time, taste as I go and linger over the pot so as to take it all in with every languid stir. I’ve also realized that most soups can be quite forgiving if you take a wrong turn, use too much spice or absentmindedly forget to stir up some rapidly browning onions. It all comes out in the wash. Everyone eats and feels warm and everything is certainly quite good with a decent crust of bread.

This is my go-to lentil soup. It’s a bit smoky and rich with pimenton, tomatoes and olive oil, studded with the usual celery, carrots and onions, earthy and lemony  from thyme and tarragon. It is a simple serving of food that has great effect. Rather easily thrown together but complex and rich. Economical but satiating and full of grace. It is something that every home cook can (and should) tuck under their sleeve for when the deep winter chill sets into the bones and the variety of vegetables winds down to a bit of a minimum. It embodies the benefits of preparation and self-care and it makes your heart feel warm, maybe going a little bit past the criteria of “just food.”



french lentil soup with tomatoes, tarragon and garlic
serves: makes a big pot
notes: I know a 1/4 cup sounds like a lot of oil, but this makes a giant pot of very nutritious food. The volume of oil helps to stew the onions, garlic and herbs so that they effortlessly melt into the soup, meshing all of the flavours seamlessly (and rather luxuriously). Alternatively, you can use less oil and add spoonfuls of stock gradually to prevent sticking/over-browning.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, small diced
4-5 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped
2 tsp dried tarragon, crushed up with your fingers a bit
1 tsp smoked paprika
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 medium carrots, peeled and small diced
1 large stalk celery, small diced
1 28 ounce can dicd tomatoes
1 1/3 cups french lentils, picked over, rinsed and drained
6ish cups vegetable stock
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium low. Add the onions and saute for at least 10 minutes, stirring them around frequently. It shouldn’t sizzle too loudly, this is a slow-cooking kind of process. When the onions are quite soft, add the herbs and paprika and saute for another 5 minutes, stirring all the while. Add the garlic and stir until very fragrant. Add the carrots and celery and cook for another 5-10 minutes, until all vegetables are soft.

Add the can of tomatoes and stir  to coat vegetables. Cook out the tomatoes for about 5 minutes so as to remove some of their raw, tin-y-ness. Add drained lentils and stir to coat in the vegetables, oil and tomatoes. Add a splash of the stock and scrape any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add remaining stock, give the whole mix a good stir and bring to a boil. Once boiling, return pot to a simmer, cover with a heavy lid and allow to cook for 25-30 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Check in on the pot once in a while and give it a stir. Season to your liking

Serve hot with a bit of fresh herb on top and a nice crust of bread.

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Kirsten16/01/2012 - 9:10 pm

This soup sounds heavenly! The use of smoked paprika and tarragon are intriguing. I just love the look of the French lentils after they’re rinsed and they look like tiny tortoise shells. I find they keep their shape well and see why they’d be great in this soup. This recipe is definitely on my “to-make” list soon. Thanks!

Ali Seiter16/01/2012 - 10:13 pm

Goodness, I’d love to dive right into a bowl of that soup. It certainly looks gorgeous, nourishing, and comforting, that’s for sure. The seasonings are also among some of my favorite spices and herbs–this recipe is going straight onto my “must make” list.

Anna @ the shady pine16/01/2012 - 10:32 pm

This soup looks like winter in a bowl…such lovely seasonal flavour.

I have just come across your lovely blog and look forward to reading more :)

Sarah17/01/2012 - 9:17 am

Homemade soup is one of my essentials – I like to take it to work for my lunch throughout the week and the making of it is part of my Sunday rital. I’ll certainly be giving this a go. It sounds wonderfully filling!

Andrea17/01/2012 - 9:52 am

Your blog looks great! Complimenti

Michelle A17/01/2012 - 7:56 pm

God knows I love a lentil soup! What a lovely recipe! Will definitely be making this when I’m back in my kitchen. Also: that toast slathered in butter makes my mouth water.

jess white @athriftyfoodie18/01/2012 - 6:31 am

yes! a lentil soup that is made with dried lentils, you rarely see this!

Carrie18/01/2012 - 9:55 am

What a beautiful soup. I just love that red color!

Hurst Beans18/01/2012 - 1:11 pm

Great recipe, thanks for sharing!

Karin18/01/2012 - 5:20 pm

Thank you for a great recipe! I haven’t seen French lentils in my stores; I’m wondering if I can sub red or brown lentils?

Laura18/01/2012 - 6:09 pm

Hi Karin, I think the brown might be a better substitute since the red ones cook a lot faster and can go a bit mushy. Or if you can find them under the name “de puy”, those are a good bet too.
-L

rx4foodies18/01/2012 - 11:51 pm

I’m always looking for a good soup recipe… I can’t wait to try this! This is perfect for my 30 days of veganism :)

Michelle @ DailyWaffle19/01/2012 - 12:21 am

When I saw this soup on this very snowy Seattle morning, I thought, please please please let me have some du Puy lentils in the cupboard. This lentil soup is a keeper, and it was perfect for a wintry night. I have to admit, I did start it off by rendering 3 slices of diced bacon.

Vanessa22/01/2012 - 3:24 pm

Your recipes and photos are so gorgeous! Thrilled that I found your site. =)

[...] French Lentil Soup w/Tomatoes, Tarragon, & Garlic – I’m a huge lentil fan and the pictures of this are just fantastic. If it tastes even half as good as it looks it might be my new favorite dish. (Image Credit: The First Mess) [...]

[...] I made a HUGE pot of bean soup last Friday. And when I say huge, I mean huge. I took this recipe http://www.thefirstmess.com/2012/01/16/favourite-lentil-soup/ and switched it a little bit. I did it all in the crock pot and used the 10 bean soup mix from the [...]

Sarah26/01/2012 - 6:16 pm

I made this soup last weekend and it was incredible. I’ve never made anything with thyme and tarragon before – crazy, I know! – and I loved the lemony flavor. Will be making this again!

[...] love Laura’s blog The First Mess, and she posted a recipe last week that was of her favorite lentil soup. I thought, I’ve got to make it this [...]

Cookie and Kate27/01/2012 - 12:09 am

Marvelous recipe and post, Laura! I’ve been hunting for a lentil soup that looks just right and here it is. I didn’t know that you had gone to culinary school, that’s so cool. I really only get nervous that something will be “just right” when I’m cooking for company. When I talk to people about cooking, though, I’m always reiterating that it’s not difficult to make something tasty—just mix together foods that taste good together and it will be, as you said, “edible and quite nourishing.”

[...] doing a bit of meal planning too. Time to get cooking again, it has been awhile. On the list is lentil soup, tofu balls and tofu ricotta lasagna. That’s a lot of tofu, I swear I don’t eat it [...]

Christina Lockwood30/01/2012 - 10:18 pm

Thank you so much for another delicious recipe! You had me at the description and pics, lentils are a winter staple always look forward to. My family devoured the soup tonight with smiles :) The only change I made was I used fresh plum tomatoes, seeded and diced, in lieu of the canned tomatoes. A new favorite!

[...] chose 2 dishes – I’m going to make pulled pork in the slow cooker and then french lentil soup.  Both recipes comes highly recommended, pulled pork from my sister-in-law and the french lentil [...]

[...] ready for lunches. The wee one loves it topped with avocado. You wonder what goes in the soup? This! Sometimes I put a handful or orzo in too, just for good [...]

[...] the plan was to only make pulled pork and lentil soup, but then I decided to add jalapeno cheddar beer bread and an apple tart to the list. The pulled [...]

[...] Lentil and Early Carrot Soup: adapted from The First Mess serves [...]

Emily18/09/2012 - 3:14 am

This is my new favourite soup! And by new, I don’t really mean new because I have made it over 5 times this winter.

I’m making a double batch tonight – half for my freezer and half for a new mum.

This soup has such lovely, deep flavours and is so nourishing. It is a ‘feel-good’ soup and I am so grateful you’ve shared it.

[...] One of my favorite simple pleasures in the whole wide world is this. You read a new recipe and you have all of the ingredients in your pantry/freezer already. It was fate. I was MEANT to make this for dinner last night. Have y’all tried smoked paprika? If not you should get some. If you do you can make this soup that my MIL loves—>SOUP [...]

[...] Bon Appetit’s Basmati Rice and Summer Vegetable Salad; a bathtub-sized pot of Laura’s French Lentil Soup with Tomatoes, Tarragon, and Garlic; and 125 of Leanne’s Candy Apple [...]

[...] This French lentil soup with pimenton and tarragon. It never gets old. [...]

Lynette21/03/2013 - 12:49 pm

I have never seen “french lentils” so if I can’t find them can I use other lentils instead? I love lentil soups and usually make a beef lentil and just freeze it up so that I can have it during the cold season.

Laura Wright21/03/2013 - 1:14 pm

Hi Lynette! Brown lentils would also work just fine :)
-L

Valeria22/03/2013 - 4:22 am

We made this last night and we were so so impressed –so tasty! We added a handful of mushrooms we had in the fridge, too. Loved it, especially the smokey note from the paprika. Thanks for sharing this!

Miachel (Spiced Curiosity)01/06/2013 - 10:17 pm

Beautiful in the utmost. Lentils are a definite soulfood.

Sarah10/09/2013 - 9:27 pm

Hey, just wanted to say that I am really impressed with your blog and the recipes I’ve tried so far including this one. Thanks for all your hard work, it is appreciated.

Inés02/10/2013 - 6:17 pm

We made this today and it was really great!
Thank you for the recipe =)
We had some self-baked bread with it, but less stock (about 2 cups), as we wanted to have something more stew-like.

Sophie21/10/2013 - 3:14 pm

As a college student who appreciates hearty, wholesome food, this soup was fabulous, especially as it’s getting cold and I’m confined endless studying in my apartment. Not to mention that my boyfriend are two hearty helpings!

[…] squash is perfectly balanced by the cauliflower and balsamic caramelized onions. I think I found the perfect lentil soup recipe this week courtesy of The First Mess. I made two minor tweaks: I added a about a cup of […]

Angel15/01/2014 - 12:58 pm

This looks simply divine! Do you have the nutritional content, by any chance? Thanks!

Laura Wright16/01/2014 - 9:35 am

Hi Angel, I’m not really aware of the nutrition content, but you can always plug the ingredients into nutritiondata.com if you’re curious.
-L

Taylor19/01/2014 - 4:40 pm

Made this yesterday and I still don’t really understand how such humble ingredients can turn into something so luxurious tasting (though I suspect the 1/4C of oil has something to do with it). Will definitely be making this again. Thank you!

Laura21/01/2014 - 3:49 pm

I made this soup last night and it was delicious! This is the first time I have ever cooked with tarragon, which is a shame because I really enjoyed it. I also added cayenne, because I can not seem to ever make soup and not add it. I am sure it’s going to taste even better after having the flavors sit overnight. I can’t wait to try some of your other vegan recipes!

Annie | MontgomeryFest28/01/2014 - 4:11 pm

This is one of our favorite recipes, but my husband usually cooks..this the first time I’ve seen it and I’m LOVing your blog! The photos are beautiful! Thanks for the recipe..

Linda Atwood30/01/2014 - 3:59 pm

look forward to trying this recipe

lisa07/02/2014 - 9:34 pm

Just made this soup for my family and boyfriend. They all loved it and had seconds. I will definitely have to try the rest of your recipes. This one was divine.

Tina10/02/2014 - 10:01 am

Love it, but I can’t even print it out??

Laura Wright10/02/2014 - 4:48 pm

Hi Tina, if you want to print it you’ll have to copy and paste the recipe into a word processor/notepad app/google document for now. Haven’t found a recipe display plug-in that I’m happy with yet. Hopefully some day!
-L

[…] Favourite Lentil Soup by, The First Mess {featured above} […]

Jamie G24/02/2014 - 1:02 am

I made this soup tonight for good friends including kids and everyone loved it! Thank you so much for your beautiful website and delicious recipes. As a reluctant cook, I am inspired and enjoying cooking more than before!

Lauren20/03/2014 - 3:46 pm

Made this tonight. Realized I didn’t have as many lentil “du puy” as I thought, so I was forced to make do and use 1/2 du puy and 1/2 red lentils. Turned out great–the taste is really good.

I would say that I come from a big family, so for me a “big pot” is more than this made. After everything was finished, I ended up with about 6 large soup bowl servings, but was expecting a little bit more. Might reduce the oil bc of this next time.

Great recipe and glad to have it in my repertoire!

mighty grain salad + a guest post at happyolks


Just a little quickie today. I have a guest post over at the gorgeous, gracious and brilliant Happyolks today. Kelsey’s blog is one of my favourites and I was completely flattered when she asked me to pay a little visit over there for a recipe, a little tale and some pictures (secret time: when that little “similar to you” tab on twitter pops up and her handle is listed there, I feel pretty cool). If you haven’t already, I encourage you to subscribe to her blog. Her observations are profound, but very real and relatable. Plus she totally high vibes on the plant-based, whole grain, real food ideology with killer, but approachable and deeply satisfying recipes. How could you go wrong?

You can check out the guest post here.

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Natalie13/01/2012 - 1:20 pm

Hi Laura! I’m so glad I found your blog. It looks like we’ll both be working on projects for Clean Eating – Congrats!! This salad looks so fresh and hearty… Off I go to snatch the recipe.

Nice to “meet” you :)

Laura13/01/2012 - 6:24 pm

Congratulations to you too Natalie. Should be some exciting work!

David from SaladPride15/01/2012 - 1:54 pm

lovely salad and lovely blog!
:D

carrot cake pancakes, lime cashew cream + breakfast stories


So in my last post I was talking about how the whole juice fast experience really put me in tune with my body and what it needs food-wise and whatnot. Guess what? My body needed pancakes. On a weekend winter morning, something a bit heartier than a kale, ginger and cucumber juice is… let’s just say it’s ideal. Plus, now that I’ve transitioned out of the juice fast and into solid foods, a healthy indulgence was surely deserved on my part. These little golden beauties did not disappoint.

The batter is crazy stiff and looks kind of weird because of the chia gel, but once you lay it into the hot pan with some coconut oil, it starts to smell awfully familiar in the kitchen. These are like thin, little carrot muffins with a bit of an orange aroma and slightly crisped edges. Slather some tangy, lime-y and rich cashew cream on there with a drizzle of maple syrup and you get full-on breakfast indulgence not unlike the ubiquitous cake slice of choice. I wouldn’t say that cashew cream is low fat by any stretch, but it’s reasonable to say that it’s a more nutritionally virtuous option than sugared up cream cheese icing.

In general, I’m pretty crazy for breakfast. It’s easily my favourite meal and one that I never, ever skip. There’s a whole ritual with the tea and that first piece of fruit and the effort to make the meal balanced in the early hours. Everyone has their routines and preferences. When you work as a server or cook for a brunch shift at any restaurant, you see and experience this so strongly: the infinite styles of eggs, sweet or savory dishes, sauces on top or on the side, ketchup on everything!, light or dark toasted white, wheat or rye bread, just toast and butter!, fruit, potatoes, milk, cream and sugar, smoked fish, preserves, yogurt and granola, sausage or bacon?, salads, beans and rice, scones, croissants, doughnuts, indulgence!, but then.. sensibility! It’s very individual and all of the personality and life tied up in it is pretty interesting to me. I feel like I’m learning something about the person as I listen to their precise order. If someone makes these pancakes for your breakfast, you yourself will learn that a) they are the coolest person ever and b) they probably really like you. Another reason to not skip breakfast, am I right?


carrot cake pancakes with tangy lime cashew cream
serves: 4
special equipment: a blender or food processor
notes: Grate the carrots on the fine side of the grater for a more refined textured pancake. Oh, and if you don’t have cashews, you can always make almond cream!

cashew cream:
1 cup raw cashews soaked for at least 4 hours
scant 1/2 cup water
juice from 1 lime
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp maple syrup

pancakes:
2 tbsp ground chia seeds
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp water
3/4 cup non-dairy milk
1.5 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup whole spelt flour
1/2 cup white spelt flour
zest of 1 orange (or clementine is delicious)
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
2 tbsp maple syrup + more for serving
1 tbsp melted coconut oil + more for cooking pancakes
2 cups finely grated, loosely packed carrots
handful of toasted walnuts, chopped

Make the cashew cream: Combine the cashews, water, lime juice, vanilla and lime juice in a blender or food processor and blend/process on high until smooth. Scrape cream into a container and refrigerate until ready to serve (it will firm up a bit).

Stir the ground chia seeds and 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp water together until combined. Set aside for 5 minutes or until the mixture gels.

Stir the apple cider vinegar into the non-dairy milk and allow it to curdle for a few minutes.

Make the pancakes: Combine the whole spelt flour, white spelt flour, orange zest, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl and whisk together. Form a well in the middle of the flour mixture. Add the maple syrup, coconut oil, chia gel and curdled milk mixture. Stir until just combined. Fold in grated carrots gently.

Cook pancakes: Heat a large saute pan to medium-low. Pour in about a tablespoon of coconut oil to get started. Once it’s heated up, place 1/4 cup portions of batter into the pan (not too many at a time!). Cook until bubbles start appearing on the surface and bottom edge looks slightly browned. Flip it over and repeat cooking process. Repeat with remaining batter, keeping cooked pancakes warm in a foil covered plate or in a low oven on a parchment lined sheet.

Serve hot with cashew cream, maple syrup and chopped walnuts.

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Rida11/01/2012 - 6:53 pm

Can you substitute flax seeds for chia seeds?

Laura11/01/2012 - 8:12 pm

Hi Rida,
You can definitely substitute ground flax for the chia in equal amount, but (as I’m sure you know) the flavour of the flax may be a bit stronger.
-L

art and lemons12/01/2012 - 2:20 pm

Hi, Laura. I just discovered your blog over at So Good and Tasty. Your recipes are absolutely beautiful and I can’t wait to try these pancakes!

art and lemons12/01/2012 - 2:26 pm

oops, I meant to say I found you over at Happyolks—had So Good & Tasty’s lemon tart with rosemary crust on my mind…

Laura12/01/2012 - 2:40 pm

Oh gosh I’ve had that tart on my mind too! LOVE your photography. So gorgeous in all of its life moments. Thanks for visiting :)

Courtney16/01/2012 - 3:35 pm

My mouth is watering just looking at these pictures! I’ll have to try these this coming weekend!

Jeanine17/01/2012 - 4:41 pm

Yum, I love the idea of the cashew cream with these!

[...] food blog, it is a wonderful mix of nutrient rich ingredients and unique ideas. When I saw her Carrot cake pancakes with tangy lime cashew cream, I fell in love! It is vegan, nutrient rich and fraking [...]

Nimi09/06/2012 - 2:31 pm

Super yummy, loved these pancakes. Was looking for something special for my b’day and this was perfect. Thanks for another great recipe.

Sol07/09/2013 - 12:36 pm

OMG! Just having this for breakfast and is zoo good!
Thanks