the people’s three-lentil soup

Since September, stories of the economy seem to have been dominating the news scene. Bail-outs, foreclosures, and mass layoffs paved the way for a bit of a doomsday new year, even with the welcome change in political powers that be.

There comes a time, however, for whining to beget action.  After all the dystopic superlatives have been said (sky-high unemployment rate, all-time lows in stock market confidence), a person still has to eat.  Perhaps it’s callow of me to bend a very real tragedy into a post on soup, but as a recent survey of eating patterns in Canada shows, some people see hope in bowl too.

The survey* revealed that many Canadians at least want more home cooking on their plates. Of those surveyed, 88% said they will try to choose the dining room over the restaurant booth in future meal decisions. As if that wasn’t enough to make this prairie girl proud, the survey also found that men are becoming more involved in food preparation and planning.

Despite how things may seem, there are people throwing creativity at widespread malaise. There are groups quietly cheering on the sidelines of grumble. There are people turning back to older, simpler ways: making their own morning latte, eating together, or planting a garden.

I was lucky enough to grow up with a family who kept their meal times sacred. While I will be the first to champion a meal out at a great restaurant, for everyday eating, I prefer my meals around a familiar table.

And so, in full acceptance of the dismal spirit of the times, I made a big pot of lentil soup and picked up The Grapes of Wrath. Five litres of meaty, multi-colored lentils and some good Depression literature should do it, I thought.

Cheap, loaded with protein, and endlessly adaptable, this soup surpassed my expectations. So many of the lentil soups I’ve tried are mushy and bland. This one is bright and chunky. I whipped up some saffron yogurt too — for a sunny, indulgent reminder that better times will come.

But best of all, sitting around a coffee table on a snowy Saturday evening, I got to share it with people who remember how to delight in the simple things. Enough truly is a feast.

Better Days Lentil Soup

makes 5 litres/quarts, but can easily be halved for a more reasonable yield

2 cups mixed lentils (I used green, French, large-ish yellow split peas, and about 1/4 cup of the small red ones)


olive oil

1 medium cooking onion, chopped

1 medium red onion, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

1-2 sticks celery, chopped

your pick of spices (I used cumin, cumin seeds, black pepper, chipotle chile powder, a few pinces of cayenne, cinnamon, curry powder, garam masala, and hot red pepper flakes)

1 tsp salt

1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

1 28-oz can diced tomatoes

4-5 cups chopped green Swiss chard, stems removed

juice of half a lemon

1. Boil the lentils in water for 20 minutes or until they’re cooked through. (If you’re using red, don’t add them until later.) Drain.

2. Heat 1-2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat, and when it’s warm, add the chopped onion. Stir for a few minutes. Add the carrot and celery, and stir for another minute or two to get the vegetables nicely coated with oil.

3. Add your choice of spices and the salt. (I used about 2 tsps of each spice except for the cayenne. Remember, you can always add more later.)

4. When the onion is translucent and the vegetables getting soft, add your cans of tomatoes and 4 cups of water (or a mild vegetable broth). Add the cooked lentils (if you’re including some red lentils, add them here) and bring the whole thing to a just-boil. Reduce heat to simmer, taste for saltiness and spicyness, and adjust as necessary.

5. Add the chard and lemon juice, and stir gently. The greens will eventually wilt in the soup. Keep the soup covered and over low heat, or cool completely and refridgerate.  Serve with saffron yogurt or sour cream, cilantro, and any other chili-esque toppings you enjoy.

adapted from the Amateur Gourmet

Saffron Yogurt

1 cup plain yogurt (sour cream could work, too)

1/8 cup boiled water

pinch of saffron threads (10-15)


  1. Place the saffron threads in the boiling water and let sit for 15-20 minutes. Remove the threads, and stir into the plain yogurt. Delightful as a topping for this soup!

courtesy of 101 Cookbooks

*Survey Specifics: Survey of Eating Patterns in Canada (EPIC), conducted by the NPD group.  Data released on December 15, 2008.

6 responses to “the people’s three-lentil soup

  1. Hey there — thanks for the idea to mix lentils, I’m not sure why I never thought of that before, but I did it Sunday night (French and red) in the Curried Squash and Red Lentil Soup from this month’s Gourmet. Delicious and I was able to use up the small amount of red lentils I had left. Hope you’re doing well!

  2. I just made this. It turned out AWESOME! I could feed an army with the amount of stew I made! Every spoonful brings a sense of comfort and health. Thanks for sharing this recipe:)

  3. Hey there Jen, I used to comment from Cameroon, but am now back in the US. I made this soup last week and boy howdy, it was GOOD! It was also fun to play with so many spices at once. And it also fed LOTS of people. Thanks for the recipe!

  4. Pingback: simple roast chicken « Fresh Cracked Pepper

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