- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I don’t know whether I am coming or going this time of the year. My “to do” list seems to get longer every day.

“Finish buying the Christmas presents, mail out the cards, decorate the tree,” I write on our calendar, and my gregarious husband adds, “have a party.”

I love to entertain during this season, but this December, I seem to have less free time than usual, so I’ve decided to combine one of my holiday tasks with entertaining by hosting a small “trim-the-tree-and-soup supper.”

My husband is ecstatic since he is not a natural-born tree trimmer. He has volunteered to keep glasses filled with wine and pass appetizers while the rest of us wrap the stately evergreen in lights and deck it with ornaments.

I am thrilled because this type of casual get-together is something I can manage during this manic month. For appetizers, I’m going to set out a cheese platter and bowls of olives.

Then I’ll arrange a big pot of soup on our kitchen counter along with some warm crusty bread and a green salad. Homemade cookies and clementines will complete this simple menu.

A French lentil and sausage soup will be the piece de resistance. It’s a new recipe my husband and I have savored recently on cold, blustery nights. One of the best lentils for this soup is the green Puy lentil from France, which is robust in taste and holds its shape well when cooked.

I simmered them in beef stock along with onions, carrots and celery and seasonings of thyme and bay leaves. For more flavor, I added diced kielbasa, a rich garlic-scented sausage, to the pot.

Soup is a winning choice when it comes to convenience because most, like this one, can be prepared in advance. I’ll make this lentil creation a couple of days ahead, so at serving time all that will be necessary is to reheat it.

If you’re way ahead of me this holiday and already have your tree up, then you might like to ask friends to come for a soup supper after the movies or a concert.

Whatever the reason, a soup party is a good and delicious solution for holiday socializing.

French lentil soup with garlic sausage

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup diced carrots (about 2 medium carrots cut into 1/4-inch dices)

cup chopped onion

cup diced celery (about 2 medium stalks cut into 1/4-inch dices)

6 ounces fully cooked garlic sausage such as kielbasa, cut into -inch dice (see note)

3 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

2 teaspoons dried thyme

9 cups beef stock

2 bay leaves, broken in half

1 pound (2 cups) green French lentils (see note)

About 1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

Heat oil in a large pot with a lid over medium heat. When hot, add the carrots, onion and celery, and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, garlic and thyme, and cook 1 minute more.

Add stock and bay leaves, and bring mixture to a simmer over high heat. Add the lentils, reduce heat, cover and cook at a gentle simmer until tender, about 50 minutes.

Remove and discard bay leaves. Then remove as many garlic pieces as you can find and combine with cup of solids strained from the soup mixture.

Puree the garlic and solids in a food processor or place in a small bowl and smash with the back of a fork. Stir the pureed mixture back into the pot. Season soup with salt to taste. (If you used reduced sodium stock, you will need to add a generous amount, about 1 teaspoon salt.) Ladle soup into 6 soup bowls and garnish each with some parsley. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Reduced-fat turkey kielbasa works fine in this recipe.

Note: Green French lentils, often called Puy lentils, can be found in some supermarkets (such as Whole Foods and Wild Oats) and in specialty food stores.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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