I don’t mean to brag, but I make some killer soup. Growing up, my mom always always made soup. I lived in Brazil so we don’t have a whole lot of cold days, but we do have some, and whenever the temperature dropped, we knew it: soup on the menu! And it was always awesome. Broth from scratch, lots of veggies, meat, beans, pasta or another grain. Soup is simple to make, and yet, potentially phenomenal if done right!
To me, the secret to a good soup is to get a good sofrito going on. Sofrito, Mirepoix, doesn’t matter what you call it, please add it to your cooking habits!
You make a sofrito by cooking the base vegetables of your dish first to build a strong flavor foundation. Ok, easy: a tablespoon of oil in the pan, heat it over medium-heat, add chopped onions and cook until they sweat, then add chopped celery, carrots, garlic, parsley, what have you! Cook them until caramelized or you can stop before that, just cook them enough to release some of those wonderful flavors in those vegetables.
Sauteeing vegetables makes them release this nutty, deeper umami flavor that shows through the whole dish and brings your cooking to a whole new level! The same with searing meat before cooking it in a stew or braised dish, the searing of the meat will release flavors that wouldn’t happen unless there had been some browning action in some hot fat such as oil or butter. When the vegetables are sauteed, heat is added to the carbohydrates and that breaks sugar particles, releasing a bunch of flavor compounds. That’s why sauteeing onions smell so good! Close your eyes! Can you smell it? It’s the compounds being released!
Every time I make soup, or a stew, even before I put something in my crockpot, chances are stuff is getting sauteed or seared before that happens! With my soups, I found there’s another way to release those flavor compounds. It is by roasting the vegetables. The recipe I bring to you today benefits from that method to create a flavorful soup, perfect for fall, comfort-food-at-its-finest kind of meal.
For this vegetarian lentil soup, I roast carrots, butternut squash, onions, garlic and tomatoes before adding them to the soup.
My mom always made vegetable and lentil soup, because I grew up being a vegetarian. By choice. I was one for 16 years and whoever saw me grow up still thinks it’s weird how now I eat medium rare cooked steaks and baby back ribs by the racks. Either way, seven year old me was determined to be a vegetarian and my mom had to find options that would supplement my diet with iron and protein. And lentils are great for that! This made being a vegetarian so easy for so many years! So I hope you like this soup even if you are not a vegetarian. Whatever you do, make sure you make a sofrito first!
Lentil and Vegetable Soup
- 3 large tomatoes cut in half stem removed
- 1 onion chopped
- 4 garlic cloves peeled
- 4 cups chopped butternut squash (1 small or 1/2 large)
- 3 carrots chopped
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 10 cups of broth vegetable for vegetarian soup, chicken or beef
- 1 lb lentils rinsed
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- 5 cups of baby Spinach
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 375ºF.
Mix the tomatoes, onions and garlic with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Arrange on a baking sheet. Mix the carrots and butternut squash with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and a ¼ teaspoon of salt and freshly ground pepper and arrange it right next to the other vegetables on the sheet pan. Spread thyme and rosemary sprigs over vegetables. Roast for 30-40 minutes. Make sure to stir the vegetables once or twice, but don’t mix the tomatoes with the carrots and butternut squash. Remove from the oven. Discard herbs.
Add the tomatoes, garlic and onions to a food processor and process until smooth.
Remove carrots and butternut squash into a bowl. If there are caramelized bits in the baking sheet, deglaze the pan with some broth.
Put the tomatoes, garlic and onion mixture in a large pot and bring it to a boil, add dried thyme and basil (or any dried herbs you wish), add the lentils and stir. Add the broth and bring it to a boil. Let simmer for about 30 minutes. Test for salt and add more if necessary.
Add the spinach, roasted carrots and butternut squash.
Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes and serve.