I created this lentil stew when our friends Erin and Nate came over for dinner recently. Erin is a vegetarian, so I adapted this from a similar version I’ve been making this winter that has bacon in it.
In place of the bacon, I used some creativity to give the lentils a blast of umami flavor. I achieved this by substituting the bacon with pan toasted buckwheat and smoked sweet Spanish Paprika, and toasting the lentils using the same technique as the buckwheat but with the addition of some oil – a trick used in many Indian dal recipes. To further amplify the flavor, I added small dices of preserved lemon.
The result is a comforting smoky flavor that will keep you from missing the meat. The acidity is kept to a minimum because the pulp of the preserved lemon is removed, and any remaining sourness is counterbalanced by the sweetness from the caramelized onions.
I’d also like to add that after finishing her bowl of soup, my wife proclaimed this to be her favorite lentil soup ever. This from someone who makes a lot of lentil soup, so I’m officially done tinkering with this one!
Toasted Lentil & Buckwheat Soup with Preserved Lemon
1 C. brown lentils
4 C. vegetable stock, plus water as needed
2 wedges of preserved lemon, pulp removed and finely diced
½ tsp smoked sweet Spanish paprika
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ C. buckwheat
Salt & pepper to taste
1 large onion, halved and cut into thin slices
- Over medium heat, cook the sliced onions in 2 tbsp. olive oil. Once the onions have softened, put the heat on low and cook the onions, stirring often, until they have turned a deep caramel color, about 30-45 minutes. The onions will reduce to about ¼ the amount of what you started with. When the onions are ready, raise the heat and deglaze the pan with a splash of vegetable stock, stirring with a spoon to scrape up any brown bits. Put the onions in a blender along with the vegetable stock and process over the highest setting.
- Rinse and dry the pan, then heat over a medium and add the buckwheat (do not use any oil). Stir the buckwheat every 10-15 seconds, while simultaneously shaking moving the pan back and forth to keep the buckwheat from burning. Once the buckwheat has turned a rich brown and smells fragrant, pour it into a bowl.
- Using the same pan over medium heat, pour in the lentils and mix with a tablespoon of oil, stirring well. Follow the same process as with the buckwheat. When the lentils have been sufficiently browned, pour them into a strainer and rinse well.
- In a pot, cook the minced garlic in olive oil until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the preserved lemon and cook for a few more seconds. Then add the lentil/buckwheat mixture, the caramelized onion & vegetable stock, the paprika, and salt and pepper to taste (use salt sparingly). Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer partially covered until the lentils are cooked through but slightly firm, about an hour. You may need to add water if the stew gets too thick. Adjust the seasoning with salt as needed.