Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Velvety Lentil Soup with Cherry Tomato Couli

Yet again, another lentil soup from Souperlatif.

This soup is rich and smooth, and quite different from either the lemony middle eastern lentil soups (eg, Spicy Red Lentil Soup), or the more European vegetable lentil soups with meat (eg, Winter Lentil Soup). There are just four ingredients to the soup - water, lentils, garlic and olive oil - a perfect meal idea when there's literally almost nothing in the pantry!

The soup couldn't be simpler, but simple doesn't mean quick - the lentils will need some soaking time, so do plan ahead. I loved this soup with the French Puy lentils, a petite dark green variety popular in France, which you can read about in my recent post about all kinds of lentils. For the garlic, I have tried using both smashed cloves of fresh garlic as well as a head's worth of slow roasted garlic cloves. The softened garlic sounds like it would be very yummy, but I found it a bit too overwhelming. I'd love feedback - the roasted garlic paste does have the advantage of making the finished texture of the soup more creamy, but the flavor, for my taste, was almost too much. I garnish the velvety broth with a a toasted half slice of country bread slathered with a quick tomato couli. For the couli, I use cherry tomatoes for greater intensity, a little white wine and fresh basil and thyme. Just a delicious way to start off a dinner evening of soup, salad, crusty bread and cheese.

The Soup
1-1/4 cups Puy lentils
1 head of garlic, cloves smashed and skins removed
1 head of garlic, slow roasted with olive oil in foil
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
6 cups water, brought to a boil
1 imported bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

A couple of hours ahead, soak the lentils in plenty of cold water. Drain and rinse.
If you elect to use roasted garlic, preheat oven to 300˚. Separate all cloves in a head of garlic, toss cloves well in 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Using a rectangle of foil, seal the cloves and as much oil as reasonably works into foil by folding together all edges, like a pocket. Roast 1 hour, or until cloves are as soft as thick cream. Once done, open the foil carefully and allow cloves to cool slightly. Squeeze the soft garlic and any oil into a dish and set aside for the soup. When adding the softened garlic to the lentils and water, reduce the amount of olive oil by half.

To start the soup, put lentils in a medium soup pot (cast iron, earthenware or stainless steel). Cover generously with water, and bring to a rapid boil. Remove from heat, and drain/rinse the lentils again. The removal of the soak and precook liquids helps to reduce the gas producing chemicals in the lentils! Meanwhile, prepare the garlic cloves by cutting the root end and smashing the clove with the side of a wide knife blade to remove the skins. Put all the olive oil, the smashed garlic cloves and bay leaf into the soup pot. Add the lentils and 6 cups of boiling water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, and allow to simmer partially covered for 45 minutes. Season to taste with salt - don't over do, otherwise the lentils will absorb too much. If using fresh garlic, test the garlic - if they are not soft enough to puree, continue to simmer another 15 or 20 minutes and test again. If using roasted garlic puree, test the lentils for softness after 45 minutes - add a little more simmer time if needed to reach the right consistency. Remove bay leaf!

Using a food mill, blender or immersion blender stick, puree the lentil mixture until creamy and smooth. Return to very low heat to keep warm until serving.

The Garnish

For the Couli
1 small basket cherry tomatoes
2 or 3 fresh basil leaves, cut in thin strips
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
kosher salt
2 to 3 T. olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine

Heat olive oil in a saute pan. Add tomatoes, coating them well with the oil. Salt the tomatoes and simmer, covered until the skins burst - about 10 minutes. Raise the heat to medium high and mash down the tomatoes to release as much juice, seeds and pulp as possible. Add the wine, allow the alcohol to dissipate, then reduce the heat. Add basil and thyme, simmer uncovered at least another 15 to 20 minutes - oil should begin to separate from the wine and the pulp should be a rich red. Using a food mill or medium fine strainer, force through the tomato mixture, discarding tough skins and seeds. Set aside on a corner of the stove to keep warm for serving.

Toast thick slices of country bread, preferably not sourdough. Rub with a cut clove of garlic, then drizzle some olive oil on each slice.

To serve, place a half slice of bread in each bowl. Ladle soup over the bread, and top each slice with a generous drizzle or spoonful of the tomato couli. Serve immediately, passing around the pepper mill.