Monday, October 15, 2007

Lentil Soup, Harrisburg Style

Well, I don't know if it is officially Harrisburg style, but it is based on a recipe from my husband's grandmother, who was from Harrisburg (as are my mother-in-law and husband).
I couldn't believe he'd held on to the small recipe card for over thirty years, when he presented it to me. My husband's grandmother has been gone for a very long time. Remarkable as well is that he had the thought to ask her for the recipe all those years ago.
Over the years, I've added a bit to the original (sacrilege, I know). The unique thing about the recipe that I've kept constant however is the use of a small 6 oz. tin of tomato paste, and chopped parsley in place of spinach. I've taken the liberty of adding a bullion cube, some cumin and coriander to the original recipe, though it is delicious without it.
I pre-soak my lentils, though it is not necessary to do so. Supposedly, this cuts down on the "windy-ness" factor, but I don't have any science to support this. While it is true of beans, there's little evidence it matters with lentils. Pre-soaking will however, cut down on your cooking time.
Some people insist that lentil soup should have escarole in it, though I've never noticed that it added anything that spinach or parsley didn't. By all means, use whatever green (or none at all) you prefer (it's not like Great Granny is going to start haunting you from the great beyond, banging on your door at night bellowing-"No escarole in the lentil soup!" At least I hope not. As a bit of Great Granny trivia, Danny is now wearing the woolens she knitted for my husband as a child.
Lentil soup is now one of my son's favourites as well. Maybe someday he will present the hand-written index card to his spouse with a request to make "The Harrisburg Lentil Soup."
You Will Need:
1 lb. package of lentils-picked over, rinsed and soaked overnight.
1 6 oz tin of tomato paste
1 beef bullion cube
3 tablespoons oil
1 bunch parsley, stems removed and chopped
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves minced garlic
4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled (you really don't need me to point that out, do you?) and diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt to taste
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon thyme
3 bay leaves
2 quarts+ water
Drain and rinse the lentils. In a large pot, saute in the oil the onion, carrot, celery, parsley, turnip, and garlic until somewhat soft and the onions are transparent. Add the bullion cube, bay leaves and the spices-mix well to incorporate. Add the tomato paste and mix well. Slowly add the water, stirring. Add the lentils. Bring the pot to a boil and then cover with the lid slightly askew to vent and reduce heat to simmer. You may need more water as the lentil expand (or not). Check the soup every half hour or so, stir and add water if needed. Taste about halfway through and adjust any seasonings (if you used unsalted tomato paste, you may need a bit more table salt in the soup).
The soup will be ready in about an hour, but I cook mine much longer. Today I went about three hours. This soup really does benefit from getting the vegetables mushy. If you are the sort that likes a potato in your soup, add the diced pieces in the last hour-but then do not freeze left-overs as potatoes will get mushy in the freezer. A better option is to serve the soup as a topping for a baked potato.

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