With the unpredictable topsy-turviness of the world these days, I’ve found myself searching for more sources of comfort that are nourishing and soothing to mind/body/soul. This soup is one of my go-tos. Although I discovered it in March 2020 in The Washington Post (how prescient!), I didn’t actually get around to making it until late fall 2021. Fall and winter are wonderful for (lazy efficient) cooks like me who prefer to cook up a big batch of something good and then eat it for days as opposed to making a different dinner every night. When “I can’t even,” having something homemade to look forward to in the fridge or freezer is so much more satisfying than figuring out what I want for take-out.
WaPo featured this soup because they found that a Seattle nurse had been making it and eating it every day for lunch for 17 years. (That kind of dedication turns my “I-could-eat-this-soup-3-days-in-a-row” claim into so much bravado.) He actually used a recipe from Crescent Dragonwagon’s (her real, cool name!) 1992 cookbook “Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread.”
I have dietary limitations, so I omit the jalapeño and garlic and substitute leeks for onions. I’ve also used frozen spinach when I didn’t have fresh spinach. You could substitute other greens like Swiss chard or beet tops. Fortunately, soup is very forgiving and perfect for experimentation. I recommend using the coriander seeds if at all possible because of their distinctive flavor. And don’t skimp on fresh lemon juice! Like it does with many dishes, the lemon provides a bright lift that highlights and complements your bowl of comfort. (Although floating a slice on top, ala step 4, might be a bit much. But if that feels like self-care to you, float away!)
- 1 pound brown or large green lentils, rinsed and picked over
- 10 cups vegetable broth or water
- 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
- 2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 2 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 medium Yukon gold, russet or red potatoes (1 1/4 pounds), scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 10 ounces baby spinach, chopped
- 1 small butternut squash (1 pound), peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 3 cups)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 ribs celery, with leaves, sliced
- 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 lemons
In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, combine the lentils, stock or water, jalapeño, coriander, cumin, oregano and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer, partially covered, about 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender.
Add the potatoes, spinach and butternut squash, re-cover and cook another 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes and squash are tender.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion, and cook, stirring, until it starts to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the celery and garlic and cook, stirring often, until they soften, 3 minutes. Add the mixture to the soup, deglazing the skillet with a little soup liquid and adding the deglaze contents back to the soup pot. Add the salt and pepper, taste, and add more if needed. Pick out and discard the bay leaves.
Thinly slice one of the lemons and cut the other into wedges. Just before serving, stir the lemon juice into the soup. Serve the soup hot, with a lemon slice floating atop each bowl. Pass lemon wedges at the table.