22 March 2017

Red lentil, butternut squash & chilli soup

Red lentil, butternut squash & chilli soup. Get your fix of beta carotene here, orange coloured food for the win. LOL You certainly know you've eaten something by the end of a bowl of this - and all for around 300 calories, which can't be bad. Of course, the crusty bread and butter blows the calories out of the water, but it's good to start low!

When I dreamt this soup up, I was after a main course soup that didn't involve much meat but that tasted like it did. Because of my predilection towards developing gouty painful feet from time to time, it is useful to have a few mainly vegetable recipes to lean on during these periods. Now I know there are those who would tut heavily and announce that lentils are incredible bad for gout - and I know that. However, not with me. They most definitely are not one of my gout triggers, whereas meat very often is - and pork (not bacon, interestingly!) can often be a prime trigger.

Well, I certainly scored with this soup as it is hearty, wholesome and would fill you up on a chilly winter's night. The chilli gives it a nice friskiness that helps to keep your tongue interested, while the butternut squash and lentils give it that heartiness that satisfies. Oh and of course, discovering a piece of bacon every so often will reassure those carnivores amongst us that there is, in fact, some meat in their dinner and they haven't had a vegetarian dish sneaked onto their plate.

Now, where Cook's Tips are concerned, the top one for today is that it is really important to use low sodium stock cubes for this soup. Ordinary, salty, stock cubes will spoil the soup with salt overkill so it is way better to use a low salt stock powder or cube and have to add a little extra salt at the end, rather than the alternative.

As you will see from the recipe, I recommend using a potato masher a few times to break up the vegetables a little and so thicken the soup. Now, you can use a stick blender and whizz the lot, but you will lose a lot of the lovely interest from the texture and of course, you will lose the bacon pieces. However, if that's not important to you and you prefer a more pureed texture to your soup, then whizz away.

For all you vegetarians out there the soup is easily converted to being veggie. Simply leave the bacon out, use all vegetable stock and add half a tsp smoked paprika for the smoky flavour the bacon would have brought and you're home and dry.

Okay, well, I think that's it - so onwards to the recipe!

RED LENTIL, BUTTERNUT SQUASH & CHILLI SOUP (serves 3 as a main meal)

Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
6 rashers streaky bacon, cut into lardons
1 red onion, diced finely
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 large red chilli pepper, de-seeded and diced finely
2 carrots, peeled and diced finely
1 celery stick, diced finely
half a butternut squash (I used the stalk end), peeled and diced
3 large juicy tomatoes, cored, diced and as much juice as possible included
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp low salt chicken stock powder or 1 low salt stock cube
1 tsp low salt vegetable stock powder or 1 low salt stock cube
500ml hot water
150g dried red lentils
sea salt
ground black pepper.

Method :

Use a large sized saucepan and heat the olive oil over a moderate heat. Add the streaky bacon lardons and cook until the fat has rendered and the bacon is golden.

Add the onion, garlic, chilli pepper, carrots and celery and continue to cook, sweating the vegetables down and stirring regularly until they have just begun to soften - around 10-15 minutes.

Add the butternut squash pieces and give them enough time - stirring regularly - to warm up.

Next, add the diced tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and tomato puree and stir to combine. Cook on until the tomatoes have begun to break down.

Add the dried basil, the two stock powders (or stock cubes), hot water and red lentils. Stir through until well combined, then cover the saucepan and bring to a lively simmer.

Remember to stir the contents regularly, as red lentils can sink to the bottom and singe if left unstirred.

Once the lentils are almost cooked and the butternut squash is tender, taste to test for seasoning and add sea salt and ground black pepper as necessary.

Continue to simmer the soup until the lentils, carrots and butternut squash are tender, then taking a potato masher, press it through the soup some three or four times to just break up some of the vegetables which will have the effect of thickening the soup. You can, if you prefer, whizz the soup with a stick blender, but I much prefer to have some chunky texture to it - I think it keeps you interested as you eat it.

Ladle into warmed bowls and serve with warm, buttered chunks of bread for dipping.

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