Lentil and Winter Squash Soup

Lentil soup may be the most misunderstood soup ever. I've had so many terrible versions. It starts out gloppy and bland, then people start adding all kinds of stuff to try to make it better, and it ends up totally disgusting.

It's like at a restaurant salad bar, where there are so many choices of things that you can't help but put a little of everything on, and afterward you realize you would have been so much happier with just two or three carefully chosen additions.

This version is simple yet packed with flavor, and entirely vegetarian! It's adapted from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, The New Spanish Table, by Anya Von Bremzen. A basic sofrito of red peppers and onions builds a flavorful broth. Roasted garlic makes it really nice, but I honestly think it would still be good if you left it out. Just don't add anything!

1 large head of garlic
3 T. olive oil
1 1/2 C. green or brown lentils, washed and picked over
1 lb. winter squash or sweet potato, cubed
8 C. water
1/2 t. dried thyme or marjoram
1 bay leaf
1 t. red chile powder
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
2 onions (one cut in half, one diced)
2 red peppers, diced (roasted red peppers from a bottle are fine)
1 t. smoked paprika
A pinch of saffron (optional)
2 T. sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper as needed

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Cut the top of the head of garlic, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil in a small baking dish. Roast until soft, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring lentils and water to a boil in a large pot. Skim off any foam and add the marjoram, bay leaf, red chile, half the tomatoes, and two onion halves. Simmer about 20 minutes, until lentils are not quite tender. Add squash and simmer another 20 minutes, until it is almost tender.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet on medium heat, and cook diced onions and peppers until soft but not browned. Add tomatoes and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add this mixture to the lentils. Mash the roasted garlic with the saffron and add to the pot. Add vinegar, salt and pepper as desired. Serves 4-6 as a main course.


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