Lentil and Chicken Soup That I No Longer Hate

Green LentilsThere was a food that you, second person reader, hated with a mad passion as a child. Your parents would throw platitudes betwixt demands that you eat whatever increasingly horrific foodstuff kept you prisoner at the dinner table.

“It’s good for you.” They would say. “Don’t you want to grow up big and tall?” And then they would make it worse by pointing out “It’s only going to taste worse as it gets cold.”

Some emerge from the parent/child “eat your dinner” stand-off victorious. My wife, a real live grown up who I definitely did not make up to seem cool and not lonely, hates broccoli every bit as much as her pre-pubescent self did. She can with the authority of adulthood tell her mother “No!” and “Shame on your matriarchal digestive tyranny.” Hers wasn’t a refusal to try something new or adolescent obstinance. “I hate and will always hate broccoli.” is as true now as at any time in her existence.  

I would invoke the same authority as my wife holds on the broccoli issue toward my aversion to mayonnaise if it were necessary, but mayonnaise is so self-evidentially disreputable that it needs no counter argument to be the antagonist.

I may have been wrong about lentils.

My mental picture of my mother’s lentil soup may have melded with my same of her split pea soup. Neither were well regarded by ten year old me. I’m fairly certain that she wouldn’t have pureed the lentils so the green morass that pops up in my mind’s eye when I recall my dinner table time wasting is more likely the latter than the former. It may be that my inability to properly picture lentil soup is the result of suppression, so traumatic was its presence on the menu.

The long and short of it is that as a kid I hated lentils and now I don’t.

The first encounter with the hitherto nasty legume undesirable was at the soft opening of a restaurant I was working for in the Cahaba Heights neighborhood just outside Birmingham. The dish was grilled trout with braised collards and barbeque lentils. I really wanted the trout and collards and didn’t feel right substituting vegetables on a night that the kitchen was using to make sure their mis was actually en place.

My plan was to segregate the offending foodstuffs in a distant arc of the plate and enjoy the rest. When my entrée came out, though, the fish was on the lentils which were on the collards. The entangling was thorough. Resigned, I tried a few bites of as lentil-less fish and greens as was possible. It was amazing despite the intrusion. Mustered (not “mustard” which is not as equally vile as mayonnaise but still a curse on the land) courage and a little curiosity convinced me to try a forkful of the lentils alone. It was… not offensive.

Fast forward a bit. The year was 2006. Reeling from the shock of Britney’s divorce from K-Fed  and The Cute Beatle’s divorce from Heather Mills, an already-saddened nation saw the discommendation of Pluto from the ranks of planets. What do you expect from a year that began with a Rose Parade showered with rain for the first time since 1955? But all was not unfabbed unions, saddened former Muskateers, and “Don’t be sad, it’s a Meteoric Rise” sympathy cards. My wife was pregnant, and we were happy as all hell.

Due to the sign of a possible complication that was all but ruled out within a week of its discovery, we got monthly sonograms. We saw a bean grow a head and sprout feet and celebrated every new picture with a post-appointment lunch at Chez Fon-Fon.

One such visit- it was late in the pregnancy as I remember – my wife was cleared for a glass of wine by the MD, so we ordered a leg/thigh piece of duck confit over lentils and lightly dressed frisse as an appetizer. I accepted the lentils, hoping that my toleration was the new rule rather than the exception because duck confit is the single greatest food on this planet (sorry Pluto) full of exceptionally amazing things to stick in your mouth.  It was so delicious that I ordered it again as an appetizer and lentils have rested securely in my good graces ever since.

Pocket KnifeThis is a recreation of a fantastic soup I had in a restaurant recently and recreated with guidance from the restaurant’s daytime sous chef. I thought I took pictures as I cooked, but I can’t seem to find them so here’s a picture of my Swiss Army knife. I’m very fond of it.

Chicken and Lentil Soup

  • 3 cups chicken stock – I like a well reduced, rich, dark stock for this
  • 1 glass dry white wine
  • 1 cup green lentils
  • ½ Vidalia onion, diced
  • carrots, diced – an amount equal to the onion
  • celery, diced – an amount equal to a) the onion or b) the carrots – chef’s choice
  • handful cilantro, chopped
  • Tabasco to taste
  • precooked chicken drumstick or thigh meat, pulled and shredded – as much or as little as you please
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

The measurements are approximations as I eyeballed the whole concoction. Feel free to freelance but keep a bit of extra stock on hand if needed. I didn’t, but range tops differ and evaporation is real no matter what the deniers say.

In a sauce pot add the lentils, stock, and wine and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 20 – 30 minutes while stirring occasionally. The end goal is tender lentils, but we are going to combine them with everything else and simmer again. A lentil that gives way but retains a little firmness is fine at this stage.

Meanwhile, in a saute pan, add a few glugs of olive oil and the onion over medium heat and stir regularly until the onion is translucent. Add the carrots and celery with a pinch of salt and stir until the carrots and celery dull in color – two minutes or so.

When the lentils have gone 20 – 30 minutes add the sautéed vegetables, chicken, and cilantro and simmer for another 20 – 30 minutes until the lentils are tender, add salt, pepper, and Tabasco to taste and serve with a crusty loaf of hot bread and a simple red wine vinaigretted salad.

For the record, that baby my wife was pregnant with in those duck confit salad days is now 11 and we’ve added another who’s 5. Neither one of them will touch this soup.

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