I Underestimated Lentil Soup Until I Made This Ina Garten Recipe

It's hearty, simple, and there's enough of it to freeze for later use. Just don't forget the garlic croutons.

I wouldn't say I was excited about making Ina Garten's French lentil and vegetable soup. I enjoy lentils and assumed the recipe was reliable, but that was the extent of my feelings on the topic. I should have known better than to underestimate the Barefoot Contessa — or lentils, for that matter.

The ingredient list of fridge and pantry staples results in a more dynamic flavor than you'd expect, thanks to a few simple details. A tablespoon of fresh thyme adds a gentle, herbaceous undercurrent, while the acidity from the red wine vinegar and tomato paste contributes a stealthy brightness. The recipe calls for so small an amount of cumin that it isn't identifiable but contributes a je ne sais quoi to the taste. These elements, combined with plump, earthy Puy lentils and a generous helping of vegetables, has become a sleeper hit in my household. In fact, I find myself craving its unsuspecting complexity.

French Lentil and Vegetable Soup
Sarah Crowder

Now that this soup has been on my dinner rotation for a few weeks, I have a few tips for making the most of the meal.

Adjust the Salt Content

Garten calls for a tablespoon of salt, which isn't a terribly large amount given the size of the recipe, but I started with half a tablespoon and found I didn't need to add more at the end. I suspect your results may vary depending on how much sodium is in your stock.

Make It Vegan

Don't want to have meat involved? Replace the chicken stock or broth with vegetable stock for a plant-based meal.

Use Whatever Vegetables You Have

This soup is perfect for putting your CSA or farmer's market haul to use, so feel free to substitute with the vegetables you have on hand. Swap the carrots for parsnips, replace half of the celery with fennel, or throw some greens like Swiss chard or kale in for the last few minutes of cooking.

Serve With Croutons

The lentils and vegetables retain good texture, but I still love serving this soup with hunks of crusty bread or a handful of garlic croutons.

Freeze It

The recipe makes a large pot, so I tend to freeze half of it to save for a night when I don't feel like cooking.

While this recipe can be adapted to any season, I'm especially excited (you read that right, excited!) to have it in my back pocket for outdoor entertaining this Spring, when the local produce is picking up and evenings are still cool enough to crave a warm soup. I'll enjoy witnessing my guests' reactions when they, too, find enthusiasm in a bowl of lentil soup.

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