I don’t know why I overlook the humble lentil. These tiny legumes that resemble pancaked pebbles are often bypassed in my pantry, as I reach for grains and beans. When I finally do cook lentils, I remember how good they taste, how satisfying they are to eat and how easy they are to prepare. Eminently flexible, lentils can stand in for a grain, starch, even a protein. They are healthy too — rich in nutrients and high in protein, iron and fiber, arguably placing them neck and neck with other lauded foods in the super-food department. They also have the added benefit of being very easy on the wallet.
Lentils cook quickly and without any fuss, gamely absorbing the flavors and seasonings of their fellow ingredients and braising liquids, while adding a hearty, earthy and rich base to soups, stews, side dishes, even salads. This soup is a perfect example. It’s the essence of a simple lentil soup, with traditional seasonings and sauteed aromatics such as onion, carrot and thyme simmering in a good amount of stock. Yet it doesn’t stop there: Wilted kale leaves add balance and freshness to the feisty broth infused with spicy chorizo sausage, along with peppery and smoky paprikas, a dollop of tomato paste for fruity good measure and another dollop of fiery harissa to boot.
In essence, this is a lentil soup and then some. It’s inspired by North African and southern Mediterranean flavors, which lend warmth and vibrance to what remains a remarkably humble and satisfying soup that passes for a delicious weeknight dinner.
Lentil, Sausage and Kale Soup
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces Spanish chorizo, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cups chicken stock
4 to 6 lacinato kale leaves, tough stems removed, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon harissa
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the chorizo in one layer and brown on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a plate lined with paper towels. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pot.
Add the onion and carrot to the pot and saute until the onion softens and the carrot brightens in color, about 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper and tomatoes and saute until the pepper is crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add the lentils, stir to coat, and then add the tomato paste, thyme, the sweet and smoked paprika and the cumin. Cook, stirring constantly, until blended and fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in the stock, partially cover the pan, and simmer over medium-low heat until the lentils are tender but not mushy, 25 to 30 minutes. Add the kale leaves and continue to simmer until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.
Stir in the harissa, brown sugar and vinegar, then add the reserved chorizo, salt and black pepper and taste for seasoning. Serve warm.
Lynda Balslev is a San Francisco Bay Area cookbook author, food and travel writer and recipe developer.