2017 December 17     Food   Soups, Vegetables


Background


Many years ago, one company introduced a ceramic slow cooker that-- dare I say-- revolutionized the kitchen.  If you had a countertop and an electrical outlet, you were all set to make super-easy, delicious meals.  These cookers were huge in like 1974, and they still pretty much are. 

Today there are probably at least half a dozen big-name companies making slow cookers. 

Despite the ubiquity of these devices, I think they are still underappreciated.

There are many recipes you can make with one of these, but one of the easiest by far is good ol' lentil soup.  (And because the ingredients look and act so similar, you can use almost the same recipe to make split-pea soup;  just omit the tomatoes and perhaps the potatoes.  Then add 8 cups water instead of 4.)




A Quick Note

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In This Article

Gearing Up

Ingredients

Preparation

Serving

Optional Spices

Conclusion






Gearing Up


There are all kinds of fancy slow cookers out there, even digital ones.  Such features are not strictly necessary.  The whole point of the original invention is to keep the temperatures low enough that your food doesn't burn. 

In other words, the basic slow-cooker was already designed so that even absolute beginners "probably" wouldn't be able to burn the food.  Genius!!  (But yeah, I'm sure there are still ways to burn food with one of these.)



Ones just like this are still around, often.  Get one here

Another option is to get a brand-new unit.  The 3-qt size seems to be good for testing out recipes, and it doesn't take up too much space on a counter top.  Three or four people gonna eat up that soup pretty quick, though, so maybe get a 4-quart one.




Ingredients:  "Sopa de Lentejas"


Somewhere I'd gotten a recipe that said "Spanish Lentil Soup".  This is based on it.  I've modified it for a 3-qt slow cooker.  Not every Spanish lentil soup recipe is vegetarian, and not every one uses tomato.  You can even leave out the tomatoes from this one if you prefer, and it still tastes great.


3 cups Lentils (dried).  Sort, wash, and soak them in water for 12 hours before cooking.  For best results, boil for 10 minutes at the beginning of the soak.  More about this later;  see "Preparation".

1 large Onion.  Chop or mince, then saute in light olive oil until translucent.

1 Garlic clove, minced.  Saute along with the chopped onion.  Or, just add garlic powder to the soup later (that's what I did here).

1 Carrot, peeled and diced.

1 stick of Celery, diced (optional;  I was out of celery)

1 can of Crushed Tomatoes (28 ounces) - don't add until the soup is cooked!!

2 or 3 Potatoes, medium size, peeled and diced

4 cups Water (not including the water that soaks into the lentils.)

dash of Oregano.

1 tsp Salt, or "to taste" - don't add until the soup is cooked!




Optional but awesome:  see "Other Spices", below...

Another optional ingredient:  fresh chopped parsley.  You'll add this to the slow-cooker along with everything else, but before you do that, make sure to read the next section.... 



Preparation


First things first:  soak the lentils in water for 12 hours.  It's often said that lentils do not need to be soaked.  However, that depends on how long that bag of dried lentils has been sitting on the shelf.

In fact, I would boil the lentils for a few minutes at the beginning.  Many people have said that tomato and lentils together can take a very long time to cook.  It might also have something to do with the use of hard water.  In fact it's probably both.  Somewhere I read (I think it was on "Serious Eats") that calcium ions greatly interfere with the soaking process for lentils.  Distilled water would be ideal, and I think they recommended that in the article.  I also think salt will slow down the softening of lentils.  So, don't add that until the soup is cooked.

For what it's worth, I've ignorantly made lentil soup many times with hard water, no problem.  Only when tomato entered the equation were there "crunchy lentils". 

After the lentil soak, it's time to chop the onion finely.  Put a skillet on the stove at Medium or Medium-High heat.  Add two or three tablespoons of extra-light olive oil.  Continually stir the chopped onion in the hot oil until the pieces become translucent.  It's OK if you caramelize the onions a bit;  just don't scorch them.

OK, now the cooking.  Don't underestimate the cook time.  Many of the old slow-cooker recipes will say "simmer for 4 to 6 hours".  If you happened to add the tomatoes early in the sequence, think more in terms of 24 to 36 hours.  As I said, tomatoes really slow down the cooking.  For best results, add the tomatoes and salt LAST, after the lentils and other ingredients have simmered for most of the day.

So, just to re-cap the basic point here:  first, soak the lentils for 12 hours in water.  Then cook the soup with all the other ingredients in the slow cooker except the tomatoes and salt.  Then, when the lentils reach the consistency you want, add the crushed tomatoes and salt.



I found that it really helps to turn the slow cooker on High for three or four hours.  Try to do this early on, before simmering it on Low or Auto.  Lentils soften much faster at boiling temperature than at simmering temps.  However, if you don't add the tomatoes or salt until the end, you may not need to run the slow cooker on High at all.

Keep the lid on the slow cooker.  They were designed this way.  Removing the lid will allow steam to escape, which carries away heat energy.  That may slow down the cooking time, especially on Low.  If you run the cooker on High, it's not as big a deal if you stir it periodically.  In fact you probably should.



Other Spices


Garam masala, Coriander, etc., if you want a more Indian-style flavor profile here.

Another possibility is to include some turmeric, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon.  As long as you don't overdo the turmeric, it brings nice flavor to such dishes.

Or, instead perhaps order some genuine saffron and use a pinch of that.  The 0.06-ounce size is very affordable.  That's six-one-hundredths of an ounce.  (Also try this link.)  For you readers, I decided to test Saffron in this recipe.  It goes very well.  It imparts a unique aroma that's hard to describe.  Seven or eight threads of saffron, that's all it took.  Don't overdo it.  Too much saffron can become kind of "much", rather quickly, except in certain dishes. 

Another idea is to get a packet of this stuff, which contains some saffron along with a couple other spices. 



 

Conclusion


This was another one of those not-really-groundbreaking recipes, but who cares?  It's tasty, you can make it in a slow-cooker, and you really don't even need to know that much about cooking.  Oh, and it's cheap. 

It tastes great without the saffron, and even better with.  A little bit goes a long way.  It was probably, at most, twenty-five cents' worth of it here.  And you don't need to buy much at a time;  ten or twenty bucks will purchase enough saffron to make many such dishes. 

Once again, don't underestimate the cook time.  Dried peas and lentils, even if you soak them, could take 24 to 36 hours in the slow cooker. 


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