Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

Winter 2011-2012 has been incredibly mild. There has been no snow accumulation, no snow days, hardly (if any) days below freezing,  and I barely had to break out my winter running gear (the most stylish of all my running gear). Worst of all, there hasn’t been many opportunities to make my favorite winter foods. I have been able to braise here and there and make a few soups and stews but I truly wish the weather had been more amenable to all the rib-sticking goodness that I love to cook during the winter season.

While checking the weather forecast one day back in January, I was thrilled to see that temperatures would be in the 30s with a chance of freezing rain. Sure, it stinks to be out and about when the freezing rain starts but it would also be great to be inside eating a rich and hot soup. I had been waiting for a very long time to make Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup, one of my favorite recipes from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home and took the forecast of freezing rain as a clear sign that it was time to make this amazing soup. As Thomas Keller describes in his book,

“The sweet potatoes make this a rich soup. The curry powder sharpens the flavor, and the cilantro brightens the rich ingredients.”

I would add that rendering the fat from the bacon and using it to cook down the vegetables adds depth to the soup and takes it to another level of goodness. Additionally this hearty soup is filled with vegetables and lentils making it pretty healthy, aside from the bacon fat. This is my favorite soup to make and hope winter lasts a few more weeks so I have another chance to make it again this season.

Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup (from Ad Hoc at Home)

INGREDIENTS:
8 ounces applewood-smoked slab bacon
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups thinly sliced carrots
2 cups coarsely chopped leeks
2 cups coarsely chopped onions
3/4 to 1 teaspoon Madras curry powder
Kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
2 sachets (ingredients & instruction below)
2 cups Spanish Pardina or French de Puy lentils, small stones removed, rinsed
8 cups chicken stock
1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Cilantro leaves

DIRECTIONS:
 Cut the bacon into lardons that are 1 inch long and 1/2 inch thick. Heat the canola oil in an 8- to 10- quart stockpot over medium heat. Add the bacon, reduce the heat to low, and render the fat for 20 to 25 minutes. The bacon should color but not crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and set aside.

Add the carrots, leeks, onions, and curry powder to the pot and stir to coat in the bacon fat. Season with salt, reduce the heat to low, cover with a parchment lid,* and cook very slowly for 30 to 35 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Remove and discard the parchment lid.

Meanwhile, peel the sweet potatoes. Trim them and cut them into 1/2-inch dice. Put the potatoes, one of the sachets, and 2 teaspoons salt in a large saucepan, add cold water to cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and spread on a tray to cool; discard the sachet.

Add the lentils, second sachet, and stock to the vegetables, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the lentils are tender. (At this point, the sup can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

Spread the bacon in a small frying pan and crips over medium0high heat.

Add the vinegar to taste to teh soup, then add the potatoes and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the soup garnished with the bacon and cilantro leaves.

INGREDIENTS FOR A SACHET:
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
10 black peppercorns
1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled

DIRECTIONS FOR A SACHET:


Lay out a 7-inch square of cheesecloth. Put the bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns, and garlic near the bottom of the square and fold the bottom edge up and over them. Roll once, tuck in the two ends of the cheesecloth, and continue to roll. Tie the cheesecloth at both ends with kitchen twine.

*Thomas Keller loves parchment lids. He writes in Ad Hoc at Home that parchment lids allow some evaporation because of the small steam hole cut in it. But because it covers the rest of the pot, it keeps the liquid from reducing too quickly and prevents the surface from becoming caramelized as it cooks. Here is a YouTube video showing you how it’s done. Since I’m lazy, I just measure out some parchment paper to cover the pot, fold it into a square and cut a hole in it to create the same affect, though not nearly as aesthetically pleasing as Thomas Keller would have liked.

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