I love the culture of a shared meal. I used to be all about dining out at restaurants, but I have come to prefer a night in with friends, sharing a meal around the table. I feel at home amongst the half empty wine bottles strewn about the table, that stack of dishes piled high in the background and the comfort of knowing that we can stay as long as we like. When I first moved here, I would stress and fuss about what to cook when friends and family would come over for dinner. Getting all worked up because I didn’t know what to serve with l’apero, or if I had bought the right wine to serve with the meal or if my style of cooking would please their french appetites. I didn’t have the courage to cook up a completely vegetarian meal, or heaven forbid serve a cheese plate as an appetizer. I guess I was scared to take a risk, and I wanted everything to be perfect.
But what I’ve realized since is that the best part of eating in is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, its the imperfections that make the meal so nice. So no, the table doesn’t get cleared right away – yes, I burned the dessert, and no, there isn’t any meat in this stew. Humble and simple is always the way to go. I now serve up whatever food I like, sticking with vegetables most of the time because frankly I cook them much better than I do meat, and well, I have yet to have someone run out of the house screaming because I served red wine with a cheese fondu.
This stew is really hearty and full of flavor, and has pleased some of the biggest meat eaters I know. It can be made the morning of or even the night before, and the longer it marinates together the better the flavor is. Bring it to the table in the pot and serve it up with a big salad and some crusty bread for family style meal and enjoy your evening shared amongst friends.
FRENCH LENTIL SOUP
A few notes:
If you can’t find De Puy Lentils, use any other green lentil variety. I like to soak lentils for at least an hour before cooking, or overnight if possible. Drain and rinse well before cooking.
The most labor intensive part of this dish is washing, peeling, and chopping of all the vegetables, so I like to get that out of the way first. Try to chop everything relatively the same size.
Serve with crusty bread of choice. Serves 4-6.
Extra virgin olive oil, for the pot
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 medium leeks, white + light green parts only, chopped
1 bulb fennel, cored and chopped
4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 + 1/2 French De Puy Lentils, or lentils of choice (cooking times may vary)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
A few sprigs fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
4-5 cups low sodium organic vegetable stock,
4 stalks curly kale, stems removed and greens thinly sliced
Salt + pepper, to taste
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onions and leeks and sautée until soft, then add fennel and cook for a few minutes. Add a bit a water to the pot if things get too dry.
Add carrots and potatoes and stir everything together. Next add lentils, spiced and herbs and stir so that the lentils are well coated.
Season with a bit of salt and pepper, stir, then add just enough stock to cover. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer until lentils are cooked and vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes. Add more stock/water if needed, I like it to be on the thicker side.
Stir in the kale at the very end, and allow it the soften before removing from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
Serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, black pepper, and of course, some good multi grain bread!