I've never thought of lentils as being a particularly decadent food, but I recently discovered that it really isn't too hard to make them unhealthy! In the right mood, I like a healthy lentil salad, daal or soup, but on a snowy cold day, sometimes virtuous food just doesn't cut it.
For those days, may I recommend this soup?
I saw this recipe in the NY Times magazine not long ago and, since it was adapted from Deborah Madison whose book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone I love, I thought I'd give it a try.
It is easy to make and kind of impressive in a minimalist way. The earthy flavor of lentils contrasts with the sharpness of garlic and a half a cup of creme fraiche makes it really rich and decadent. So save the healthy lentil recipes for a sunny day and make this one on a day when you need to take refuge from the cold.
Lentil Soup with Pounded Walnuts and Creme Fraiche
2 C brown lentils
2-4 T butter
1 onion, diced fine
1 bay leaf
6 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
salt and pepper
2 large garlic cloves
2/3 C toasted walnuts
1/2 C plus 2 T creme fraiche*
2 T minced parsley or chives as a garnish (optional)
1. Soak lentils in water for 2 hours, then drain.
2. Melt butter in a large pot over low heat. Add the onion and bay leaf. Saute on medium heat until onion has softened, about 5 minutes. Add lentils, stock and 1 t salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer, covered, until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Using a mortar and pestle (though a small food processor or some persistence with a knife and cutting board would probably work just fine too), pound the garlic with a large pinch of salt. Add the walnuts and work until finely ground. Add 2 T creme fraiche, mixing it in a teaspoon at a time to make a paste.
4. Before serving, stir the remaining 1/2 C of creme fraiche into the soup. Ladle soup into bowls and top each with a large spoonful of the walnut garlic cream, a bit of ground pepper and some chopped parsley or chives.
* To make creme fraiche, take 1 C of heavy cream and stir in 1 T buttermilk. Then let it stand at room temperature for 24 hours until it is thick. If you have a cold house (like me!) you may want to find a warmish place to leave it. My oven has a bread proofing setting that is perfect for creme fraiche. Refrigerate it after it has thickened and cultured.