- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Autumn is the time of year when I really get enthusiastic about making soup for supper. Nothing welcomes you indoors after a blustery day like a good, steaming bowlful.

In fact, I love to make soup as a main course. Put the right things into it, and serve a crusty loaf of bread and maybe a simple salad alongside, and you have a perfectly satisfying dinner.

Some of my favorite soups are those featuring dried beans or lentils. Thick and hearty, they’re almost definitely the kinds of dishes that first encouraged someone long ago to coin the phrase “stick to your ribs.” Packed with complex carbohydrates (that’s the good kind, for those of you who are still counting) and protein, they’re healthy, too.

I especially like lentil soups, because those little dried pulses shaped like discs (the name refers to their lens-like form) cook far more quickly than dried beans, which need pre-soaking and can require up to several hours of simmering. Lentils, by contrast, need no soaking and are ready in well under half an hour, especially if you use the very quick-cooking, hulled red or yellow varieties. You’ll find these in most supermarkets, as well as in Indian food stores, where they’re called “dal.”

Though you can make wonderful vegetarian lentil soups, using vegetable broth and the seasonings I employ in the recipe I share here, I like to add flavorful meats to my lentil soups. It’s a practice to which I grew accustomed when I lived and cooked in France, where it’s common to simmer smoked meats and sausages with brown or green lentils. I began to make lentil soup with Moroccan-style lamb meatballs back in 1989 at my first Postrio restaurant in San Francisco. You could easily substitute ground beef, pork or turkey, if you like.

Or change the personality of the soup by substituting embellishments from other cuisines. For an Italian version, include oregano, garlic and pine nuts in the meatballs, along with chopped tomato stirred into the lentils. Or make a Mexican version by substituting crushed tortilla chips for the breadcrumbs and adding a little hot chili powder to both the soup and meatballs.

One of the best things about a soup like this is how flexible it can be not only for your tastes but also for your schedule. You can make the lentil soup earlier in the day or even the night before and refrigerate it, to be reheated just before serving. The meatballs can be mixed and shaped ahead of time also, then cooked at the last minute.

However you strategize the preparation, you’ll have an incredibly satisfying meal on your dinner table for only minutes of work in the kitchen.


Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 4 to 6 as a main course


3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups (375 ml) chopped onion

1/2 cup (125 ml) chopped carrot

5 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 stalk celery, 1 sprig parsley and 1 sprig fresh thyme, tied together with kitchen string

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 pound (500 g) golden lentils

10 cups good quality canned chicken broth, heated


Freshly ground black pepper

Juice of 1/2 lemon


1 cup (250 ml) blanched slivered almonds

1 pound (500 g) ground lamb

1/2 cup (125 ml) fresh breadcrumbs

1/3 cup (80 ml) chopped onion

1/3 cup (80 ml) seedless raisins, chopped

1 egg, lightly beaten

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes


Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


1 cup (250 ml) plain yogurt

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

First, make the soup: In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the onion, carrot, garlic, celery, parsley, thyme, turmeric and cumin. Saute, stirring frequently, until the onions are glossy and transparent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lentils and broth, season lightly with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, 25 to 30 minutes, skimming as necessary.

While the soup is cooking, prepare the meatballs. First, put the almonds in a small, heavy skillet over low heat and toast them, stirring almost continuously, until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool, then put them in a food processor with the stainless-steel blade and pulse the machine until they’re finely ground.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees (260 C).

In a mixing bowl, put the ground almonds, lamb, breadcrumbs, onion, raisins, egg, garlic, parsley, cilantro and pepper flakes, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined. With moistened hands, shape meatballs about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, setting them aside on a plate; you should have about 40.

Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange the meatballs in the pan and then put the pan in the preheated oven. Bake the meatballs until they are firm to the touch and browned all over, turning them occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes total cooking time.

When the lentil soup is done, remove and discard the celery-herb bouquet. With a ladle, transfer two-thirds of the soup to a blender. Cover the blender with a dry kitchen towel and leave the lid slightly ajar to avoid splattering, puree the soup. Stir the puree back into the pan, stir in the lemon juice and adjust the seasonings to taste. Heat through over medium-low heat.

Prepare the garnish by stirring together the yogurt, mint and lemon zest in a small serving bowl.

Ladle the soup into heated bowls. Divide the meatballs among the bowls. Drizzle the yogurt mixture over each portion and serve immediately.

Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays on the Food Network. Also, his latest cookbook, “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy,” is now available in bookstores.

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