So, the same night that Nich set about making butter, I decided to make another one of Thomas Keller’s recipes: Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup with Bacon and Cilantro. Just take a moment and soak in those words. Lentils. Sweet Potatoes. Bacon. Cilantro. So much goodness in one pot of soup! Of course, I had to make it.
We had invited our friends Beyth and Joe over for dinner, and I warned them ahead of time that they were going to be my guinea pigs for the evening. I felt the need to warn them, as I always get nervous making a brand new recipe for friends. Even though it sounds terribly delicious, what if it turns out awful? (Like this summer, when I decided to make tempura for a few friends. Lets just say, I burned the oil and smoked out our tiny apartment and we had to sit and drink wine on the front porch for a half hour until the smoke cleared. Awesome.)
Thankfully, the soup wasn’t awful. It wasn’t awful at all. In fact, this might be one of the best soups I’ve ever made. It was that good. It had all the right elements – it was hearty, savory, with a touch of sweetness. The bacon adds just the right amount of fatty and salty goodness, and the cilantro adds a delightful freshness. I couldn’t get over it. The soup is great.
I had seen a couple variations of the recipe online and was going back and forth as to which variation I wanted to follow. One recipe (which I think is closer to the original Keller recipe) called for boiling the lentils in one pot, and the sweet potatoes in another pot, and then adding them later to the pot of onions, carrots, and broth (i.e. cooking things separately so you don’t get a pot of mushy soup). The other recipe threw everything into the same pot and let it all cook together until everything was cooked thoroughly.
In the end, I decided to try a combination of both recipes. I cooked the sweet potatoes separately (boiled them in a pot of water with a bay leaf, sprig of time, and some black peppercorns until they were soft) and set them aside until later. I know that lentils take a lot longer than sweet potatoes to cook, and so I didn’t want them breaking down too much. I added the lentils to the carrot, onion, and stock pot and let that simmer for 40 minutes or so. Then, right before I was ready to serve the soup – I added in the sweet potatoes, and took a potato masher to the whole pot and let it simmer for just a couple minutes (so that the soup was nice and thick and the flavors melded together). The recipe I’m posting here is the ‘throw it all in one pot’ variation, as I’m guessing that most people would prefter this method (less work, less dishes, etc), but feel free the recipe any way you like.
Lentil & Sweet Potato Soup with Bacon & Cilantro
Adapted from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home and the Bitchin Camero blog.
6 thick slices applewood smoked bacon, cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
3 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups French Lentils (Lentils de Puy) (I actually used Spanish Lentils, which worked just as well)
8 cups chicken stock
1 – 2 tsp. yellow Curry powder
1 bay leaf
2 Sprigs of Thyme
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
1 large handful of cilantro leaves
Set a very large pot over medium-low heat and cook the bacon until the fat renders and it begins to crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve the bacon. Add the onions, carrots, and curry powder to the pot and cook in the bacon fat until soft – about 10 minutes.
Add the sweet potatoes, lentils, chicken stock, bay leaf, and thyme sprigs and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low or low and cook for 30 – 40 minutes, or until the potatoes and lentils are tender. I wanted to thicken my soup up a bit, so I mashed the soup with a potato masher about 15 times. This is optional.
Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Add the sherry vinegar and taste the soup. (*To be honest, I think I was too over-eager to eat the soup and forgot about adding the vinegar. I’m sure it lacked a little bit of that acidic punch that vinegar added, but the soup was still amazing.) Add salt and pepper as needed. Ladle into bowl and sprinkle with bacon bits and fresh cilantro leaves.