This soup is one of our absolute favorites. We discovered it in Annie Somerville's Fields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes from the Celebrated Greens Restaurant a few years ago. Actually, now that I think of it, I think it's my sister that tipped me off about this one. She owned Fields of Greens, too, and she called me once raving about the warmth of the roasted garlic and the smokiness of the chipotle. The whole recipe is perfectly thought out, from the use of herbs to infuse the lentils with flavor, to the toasting of the cumin and the oregano, which really brings both of these ingredients to life. Mexican Lentil Soup goes down nicely at any time of year, but it's especially good when there's a chill in the air like right now.
Variations: you can make this soup with either green, brown, or red lentils. This time around I made it with red lentils, which gives the soup a nice color and a texture closer to a purée. If you want lentils that will hold their shape, but still get nice and tender, try using dupuy lentils. If you like your soups on the spicy side, add extra ancho chili purée and/or chipotle purée. Finally, a dollop of sour cream, crème fraîche, or crema makes for the perfect finishing touch.
Mexican Lentil soup with Roasted Garlic and Chilies
1 cup lentils
6 cups cold water
1 bay leaf
2 fresh sage leaves
1 fresh oregano sprig
1 head garlic
2 tbs. light olive oil
12 oz. canned tomatoes with juice
1 red onion, diced
1 tsp. cumin seed, toasted and ground
1/2 tsp. dried oregano, toasted
1 small carrot, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
2 tbs. ancho chili purée (instructions below)
1/2 tsp. chipotle purée (instructions below)
1 tbs. chopped cilantro
1 tbs. chopped fresh oregano
Place lentils in a soup pot with the water, the bay leaf, sage, and oregano. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat, and cook, uncovered, at a gentle boil for 15 to 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Remove the herbs.
While the lentils are cooking, preheat the oven to 350˚F. Rub the head of garlic with a little oil, place it on a baking sheet, and roast for about 30 minutes, until soft. When the garlic has cooled, slice of the top of the head and squeeze the garlic out of its skin. Purée with the tomatoes in a blender or a food processor and set aside.
Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the cumin, and the dried oregano; sauté over medium heat until the onion is soft, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the carrot and peppers and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the chili purées, the puréed tomatoes, and 1 teaspoon salt; simmer for 10 minutes.
Combine the beans and their broth with the vegetables, cover, and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Add salt to taste. For more spice, add ancho or chipotle purée to taste. Sprinkle in the fresh cilantro and oregano just before serving.
Makes 8 to 9 cups.
Note: to make chipotle purée blend the ingredients from a can of chipotle peppers (in adobo sauce) in a blender or food processor. This purée will keep indefinitely when placed in a jar and kept in the refrigerator. To make ancho chili purée place a couple de-stemmed and de-seeded dried ancho chilies in a bowl and cover them with hot water, allowing them to soak for 15-20 minutes. Place the peppers in a blender or food processor and purée them. Both canned chipotle peppers and dried ancho chilies can be found in Mexican and Latin American specialty stores.