Late this month the long, hot summer will give way to fall, and I for one will be happy to see it arrive. To help you get ready for those nights when you need a sweater for your evening stroll, we are going to dive into two comfort food favorites: lentils and chicken soup. Both are easy to prepare, low in fat, and great as leftovers. In fact, I often make a double batch just to make sure I’ll have enough for lunch the next day.
It always surprises me how many people avoid lentils altogether out of the common misconception that dried beans and legumes are difficult to prepare. They are actually a breeze to cook, and infinitely flexible in the flavor department. Lentils are inexpensive tasty powerhouses that offer an impressive amount of iron, zinc, potassium and magnesium along with a whopping 18 grams of protein per cup. Because lentils aren’t a complete protein, I always recommend serving them with brown rice to reap all of the nutritional benefits.
Basic Lentils Recipe
- 1 cup dried lentils
- 3 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Start by rinsing the lentils and checking them for any debris that might be present. Tiny rocks are not uncommon in dried beans and legumes, so don’t be surprised to find one. Just be happy you are finding it at this stage and not when you take a bite!
- In a saucepan, combine water, lentils and bay leaf and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Stir and reduce heat to a simmer, and cook uncovered for 25 minutes before testing for doneness. Continue to cook as needed until lentils are no longer crunchy. Don’t let them get mushy!
- If you plan to use the lentils in a salad or other dish that doesn’t make use of the extra liquid, strain it off now and stir in the salt. Otherwise, add the salt and season to taste. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf.
Want to give your lentils some star power? While they are cooking, sauté chopped onion, garlic and sweet peppers in some olive oil until al dente, and toss in some fresh, chopped herbs like parsley and oregano. When the lentils are done (don’t strain them), stir everything together and serve the lot over brown rice, with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
As I mentioned before, lentils are a great addition to a salad. Toss them with some barley, goat cheese, and fresh, raw veggies and you won’t believe how you have lived so long without them. They are also perfect as a soup. You can either start with more liquid or add broth after the lentils are cooked. I love to use my stick blender to puree some of the lentils when I make a soup. This creates a luscious, creamy broth. And speaking of creamy broth, now that the weather is starting to turn cooler, I decided to share one of my favorite chicken soup recipes this month as well.
It never hurts to have a few comfort food recipes in reserve, and this creamy chicken and wild rice soup certainly fits the bill. You don’t have to be under the weather to crave this stuff, though. It’s like a big, warm hug on a cool night! And don’t feel limited by the vegetables I use; add whatever makes you happy. Zucchini, squash, even leftover roasted vegetables will taste great and make it your own custom creation.
Creamy Chicken & Wild Rice Soup Recipe
- 2 cups wild rice, cooked according to package directions
- 1 quart chicken broth
- 1 large baking potato, peeled and cubed
- ½ cup nutritional yeast
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 rib of celery, sliced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Fresh parsley
- In a soup pot, combine broth, potato, and nutritional yeast and bring to a low boil. Allow to cook about 10 minutes, or until potato is tender. Puree mixture until smooth using a stick blender, or by adding the potatoes and a small amount of cooking liquid to a regular blender. Return to the soup pot.
NOTE: If you use a regular blender, be very careful that you don’t add more than a cup of liquid. Otherwise the heat may cause it to lose its lid and make a big mess all over the kitchen!
- In a pan, sauté onion, carrots, celery and garlic over medium heat until the onions are translucent and the carrots have begun to soften slightly. Transfer to soup pot.
- Add rice and chicken to the soup pot and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and simmer for 20-25 minutes to give the flavors plenty of time to combine.
- Mince some fresh parsley to be stirred in just before serving.
Vegetarian/Vegan-Friendly version: To make this soup suitable for people on a plant-based diet, replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth, and replace the chicken with a meat alternative option like those available from companies like Beyond Meat or Gardein. Cook the meat replacement according to package instructions, chop it, and add it just before serving.
Michael Nolan is a professional gardener and food writer based in Atlanta. His digital cookbook, “Food Camp: Kitchen Survival Skills,” is available on Amazon or through his website, MyEarthGarden.com.