Winter certainly seems to be closing in. It’s not been overly cold, but the days have been dark, damp and dreamy. Filled with three endless days of mist and drizzle that seems to seep into your clothes and skin making you feel cold and miserable. On waking up to yet another day of swirling mist I decided there was only one thing for it – a nice big bowl of steaming hot soup!
Ahh soup. Is there anything more warming and satisfying on a cold dreary day than a bowl/mug/ladle/bucket full of piping hot soup?! It seems to warm you up from the inside out, from the tips of your fingers down to your very soul. Ideally it must be thick soup too, rich and satisfying, not those horrible watery packet mixes. But a soup packed full of winter veg and goodness.
One of my favourite soups is red lentil soup. It’s thick and creamy with a bit of texture and bite from the lentils. Lentils, being rich in protein and fibre also help transform the soup into a filling meal that keeps the winter chills away.
I had a hunt through my fridge and basically comprised the soup from whatever I had to hand or that needed using up. That’s one of the perks of soup, it can transform even the most tired or gnarled shaped vegetables into something delicious. This time the main flavour component of my soup was a whole baby butternut squash. I simply scooped out the seeds and membrane from the middle and diced it up, leaving the skin on. As it all gets blitzed into a puree you can’t detect the skin so it’s not worth the hassle. Plus, there’s a lot of extra goodness hidden in those skins, the same applies to the parsnip, although I would recommend peeling the papery skin off the garlic.
The vegetable base is cooked and pureed first, before the lentils are added and cooked in the soup for a further few minutes. This means they add texture while being suspended in a creamy velvety smooth soup. The soup base looks a little thin when puréed, but once the lentils are added, they swell up, absorbing some of the liquid and releasing their starch, creating one glorious thick and satisfying soup.
Creamy, comforting and warming to the soul. There’s nothing better on a day like today.
Butternut Squash & Red Lentil Soup
4 spring onions
1 parsnip, skin left on
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small butternut squash, 600-700g whole
2 sticks celery
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 pints vegetable stock, hot
150g red lentils
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
Chop the onion, spring onion, parsnip, celery and butternut squash into a chunky dice. You can leave the skin on the parsnip and butternut squash, although remove the seeds and membrane from the centre of the squash.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan pan, add the veg and the thyme and stir together. Place the lid on the saucepan and allow the veg to cook over a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the edges of the veg is starting to take on a little colour.
Roughly chop the garlic, add to the pan and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Pour over the vegetable stock, stirring right to the bottom to ensure you get up any stuck on bits. Replace the lid and allow to simmer for 20-25 minutes until all the veg is soft and tender.
Remove from the heat and puree the soup in a liquidizer until smooth. It should be quite runny/thin at this stage.
Return the soup to the pan and add the salt and pepper to taste. Pour in the red lentils, turn the heat to low and bring the mixture to a gentle bubble. Stir constantly for the first few minutes to prevent the lentils from sinking to the bottom of the pan and sticking.
Half cover the pan with the lid and allow to bubble gently for 15-20 minutes until the lentils are cooked. Stir every 5 minutes to prevent the lentils from clumping together. The soup will thicken up considerably as the lentils cook and swell.
Once the lentils are tender, remove from the heat and serve steaming hot.