Soup can be many things: from chunky to smooth, from elegant to “throw it all in and see what happens”, from creamy to spicy, from a delicate starter to a full-on main course. One of soups most important roles is that of a comfort food. As a child, whenever I was ill my Mum would feed me tinned lentil and bacon soup, and no matter what was wrong it would always make me feel better. I’ve now been a vegetarian for a very long time, and while you can get plain lentil soup in a can that is just as comforting (if not more so), I’ve been on a bit of a mission to create a vegetarian version of the meaty kind from my childhood.
The key to this is liquid smoke. It’s quite expensive in the UK, and you have to buy it online, but a little bit goes a long way. It’s probably not going to fool a meat eater, but a hint of smoke in a soup or stew is just enough to trick a vegetarian brain into tasting bacon. Even without the liquid smoke it’s still a tasty soup though, and just as comforting.
Recipe (serves 4-6)
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3-4 medium carrots, grated
- a couple of cloves of garlic, crushed
- a good sprig each of rosemary and thyme
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- a pinch of chilli flakes (optional, we put chilli in pretty much everything in the Veg household, whether it’s appropriate or not)
- 2 cups of split red lentils
- 7 cups vegetable stock (1.75 litres)
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke (or more if you want it, but be careful!)
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan with the lid on, sweat the onion in the oil over a medium-low heat for up to 10 minutes, without colouring.
Add the carrots, garlic, herbs, cumin, and chilli, and sweat with the lid on for another 5-10 minutes, again without colouring.
Add the lentils and stock, bring to the boil then simmer for a further 20-30 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through and starting to go mushy.
Add the liquid smoke, then check for seasoning. Serve and enjoy!