Liddie’s Traditional New Mexican Dishes: Lentil Soup

Lentil soup. Photo by Liddie Martinez
Española Valley
When the chill of winter hurts my bones and snow makes its appearance, I find myself seeking comfort in a bowl of lentil soup. The unusual volume of snow this year has brought this soup to mind more in the last few weeks than all the past five winters combined.
Lentil soup is my favorite; it reminds me of my Grandma. Anytime I am missing my Grandma, I put on my apron and make a pot of lentil soup. It was one of her favorite dishes and one she and I often made together. It was also one of the first things I learned how to cook at her side and so, I don’t have my own version; this is my Grandma’s recipe.
You may not know this but, lentils were among the first agricultural crops grown some 10,000 years ago and were one of the very first foods sold by street vendors in and around the Mediterranean. If I had a food truck (I said if), Lentils would be on the menu regularly as a recognized super food that is high in fiber, rich in folic acid and magnesium. They also have complex carbs to stabilize the blood and are high in protein. Lentils are also very affordable, super easy to make and are incredibly delicious. Moreover, it is a beloved dish in small, rural communities like mine where making ends meet is a struggle but sacrificing flavor or nutrition is unacceptable.
I grew up on food like this and it holds a special place in my heart, a place I always come back to after the travel, the chef’s menus and the micro green salads lose my interest – home is in this bowl.
During lent throughout my life we made a vegan version of this dish as part of our observance along with other traditionally Lenten dishes like torta de huevo (fritters), panocha (sprouted wheat pudding), quelites with chile pequin (spinach with crushed red chile) and alverjόn maduro (pea soup). I promise I will share those recipes with you in future columns. Like Christmas tamales and posole, Easter brings its own unique dishes that are distinctive, flavorful and served at only this time of year.
The recipe below can be adapted for a vegetarian meal by substituting the chicken stock with vegetable stock and eliminating the bacon. Another variation would be to use chorizo or andouille sausage; the lentils provide a really great base for some heat, so experiment, if you are so inclined!
8 oz. Dry Lentils
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
3 strips thick sliced bacon, chopped
2 ribs celery, diced fine
2 carrots, diced fine
½ onion, diced fine
2 Tbsps. Olive Oil
2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
Italian flat leaf parsley for garnish
Heat oil in a cast iron dutch oven and add bacon, onions, celery, carrots and salt. Sauté over medium-high heat until onions are transparent. Add lentils, chicken stock and water and bring to a rolling boil.
Cook uncovered over medium-high heat for 25-30 minutes or until tender. Skim top now and again.
If you have to add additional water, make sure it is boiling water – otherwise your lentils will turn black.
Add pepper at the end and salt to taste. Garnish with cilantro or flat Italian parsley. Makes 6 servings.