French Lentil Soup w/Turnip, Parsnip & Quelites

by Maja Lukic


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This lentil soup requires some urban foraging, which for me at least consists of walking to Union Square farmers market and buying a lovely bunch of lamb’s-quarters (also known as quelites, wild spinach and goosefoots). Quelites is a general term that encompasses a wide range of wild, edible and supremely nutritious plants.  They grow on their own like weeds. You can see them pictured in these photos.

As has been pointed out by others, quelites easily replace spinach in any recipe. I think they almost taste better than mature spinach and far better than baby spinach, which is fairly useless as a vegetable anyway (spitefully placing most baby vegetables into this category). For more information on lamb's-quarters/quelites, go here. I particularly like using these wild, beautiful greens in this soup to break up the tired lentil-spinach soup routine.

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And so, this soup -- I hesitated about posting this recipe. I do like warm, rustic seasonal dishes but a lentil soup? Très plain. In the end, though, I went ahead with the lentil photo shoot. Because I love a good lentil soup. It's a nice, comforting thing to have in the freezer on a busy winter night. Also, a lentil soup is completely unpretentious – there is nothing unhealthy about it and it won't even try to entice you. This isn't a cauliflower pizza crust or carrot fries or some other nutritious food item masquerading as a lecherous, unhealthy dish. Indeed, the typical lentil soup is fairly unattractive -- a watery, murky brown mess. 

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But a few embellishments can make even a drab lentil soup seem new and exciting. I like to balance the lentils with a good amount of other vegetables. We all know how much I love working with rustic, root vegetables (see here, here, here, and here) so this recipe includes sweet parsnips and turnips. Their starch lends substance to the broth. Other important details: a lot of tomato paste to stave off the foggy brown colors that most lentil soups have; minimal liquid for a thick, stewy consistency; lots of dried herbs and warm spices; cups and cups of leafy greens at the very end (chard, spinach, or kale); and a burst of fresh lemon juice off the heat. The simple lentil soup quickly becomes a next level meal. 

But even if you can’t be bothered to make an entire soup this weekend, I would recommend picking up some quelites the next time you're at the market. 

French Lentil Soup w/Turnip, Parsnip and Quelites (v/gf)

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, diced

2 large carrots, scrubbed but not peeled, chopped

2 large celery stalks, chopped

1 turnip, peeled and chopped

2 large parsnips, peeled and chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 dried bay leaf

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp crushed red chili flakes

1 cup dry white wine (optional)   

1 cup French green lentils (lentilles du puy) 

1/3 cup tomato paste

6 cups water (or stock)

5 to 6 cups quelites (clusters of leaves only, no stems)

sea salt and black pepper

Before you start cooking, clean the quelites. Pick the soft leaves off the thick stems (discard the stems) and wash them well. The leaves can be extremely sandy.  

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, turnip, and parsnips to the pot and cook, stirring often, for about 8 to 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the onions are translucent. Add the bay leaf, oregano, cumin, chili flakes and garlic to the pot and cook for another 30 seconds but do not let the spices or garlic burn. 

If using, add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits. Cook for a few more minutes until the wine has slightly reduced. 

Rinse the lentils well and add them to the pot along with the tomato paste and water (or stock). Turn the heat up to medium-high and bring the soup to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium low and allow the soup to simmer uncovered for about 20 to 25 minutes. Taste the lentils for doneness and be sure not to overcook them. If the soups dries out too much as it cooks, add another 1/2 cup or so of water, as necessary, but a thick consistency is best.

Near the end of the cooking time, add the quelites to the pot. They only require a few minutes of cooking time and will reduce considerably as they wilt down.  

Take the soup off the heat and stir in the juice of half a lemon. Taste for seasoning and add in sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste. Allow the soup to cool slightly and serve with additional lemon juice.

It will keep in the fridge for a few days and will only get better with time as the flavors develop. For long-term storage, freeze individual portions for up to 1 month. 

Note: Do not add salt until the lentils are fully cooked through. Adding salt too early in the cooking process ruins their texture. In fact, for the best texture and flavor, be sure to use French green lentilles du Puy. (I also do not recommend substituting canned or frozen lentils because they tend to be mushy). The lentilles du Puy are worth the investment and you should have plenty left over to make salads such as this one by David Lebovitz. 

 


Spiced and Caramelized Sweet Potato Fries

by Maja Lukic


It's not always about juices, hemp seeds, and kale salads here. Sometimes a girl just needs fries. Sweet potato fries, to be exact.

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Actually, I seem to go through a lot of sweet potatoes every week. They're a great pantry staple to have on hand for easy and comforting but healthy meals. I almost never do more than slice them into rounds and then roast with a little bit of olive oil and sea salt. If I'm feeling inspired, I'll throw in some curry powder and turmeric but, generally, I keep it pretty simple.

This recipe is the one exception to the rule but it's still embarrassingly simple. It requires a handful of ingredients you probably already have on hand (perhaps not the coconut oil but it is available everywhere now) and it always works. Every single time.

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There is something tantalizing about the combination of slightly sweet coconut oil and sweet potatoes and the maple syrup gives the fries a sticky, caramelized coating. It's just good comfort food.

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There is not much else to say about this little snack. It's absolutely delicious and can feed a crowd. Just double or triple the ingredients, as needed.

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Spiced and Caramelized Sweet Potato Fries (v/gf)

Adapted from Tara Stiles' Candied Sweet Potato Fries

Serves 2 to 4

2-3 large organic sweet potatoes, any variety, scrubbed but not peeled

2 tbsp maple syrup

2 tbsp organic virgin coconut oil, melted

a dash of cayenne pepper

sea salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Scrub the sweet potatoes well but leave the skin on. Slice them into thin French fries. Anything too thin because will dry out in the oven but if you cut them too thick, their texture will be soggy and soft. Try to cut them into a uniform thickness so that they bake evenly.

In a small bowl, whisk together the maple syrup and melted coconut oil. If the coconut oil is solid (which is its normal state at room temperature), simply pop it into the microwave for a few seconds until it becomes liquid.

It's best to do this next step on the baking sheet you'll be using to bake the fries. Spread the fries on the sheet, pour the maple-coconut mixture over them, and then, using your hands, distribute the maple-coconut mixture over the fries, coating them evenly. This is the part where you have to work quickly because as soon as the coconut oil hits the cold maple syrup and the potatoes, it will start to solidify again, making your task a little bit harder.

Lightly dust with a little bit of cayenne pepper. And I do mean "lightly." Don't be a hero - that stuff is potent and can be overpowering. We're aiming for just a hint of spice.

Sprinkle sea salt over the fries. The salt plays off the sweetness and is indispensable, in my opinion. Think of the combination of sea salt and dark chocolate or sea salt on the best chocolate chip cookies you have ever tasted. That is what we're going for here, too.

Bake the fries for about 20 minutes. Check them halfway to make sure they're not burning and give them a stir. After about 20 minutes, the bottoms should be browned. Turn your oven's broiler on and broil for the last 2-5 minutes, depending on the strength of your oven. Make sure they do not burn or dry out too much. They should be sticky, caramelized, and browned when they're done.

Hit them with a dash of sea salt as soon as they come out of the oven and serve right away. You could eat them the next day, of course, and the flavor will be there but they will definitely be day-old fries. Eating them right away should not be too difficult of a task, though. ;) 

And the track I can't stop listening to lately?

Dr. Dog have a sweet new song out. I've missed Dr. Dog but now they have a new album coming out in October.