Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

Unlike Thomas Keller, I don't have the Central Valley's bounty beckoning at my back door. Each week as I peruse the ever shrinking offerings at my local farmers market, I'm constantly faced with the question of what to make with fewer and fewer locally available vegetables.

There comes a point where you just get tired of the same base seasonal dishes that have only a small twist to them. I'm not saying it has to be "Fancy Food", as some people call it, but give me something different and tasty.

I can't say enough great things about Keller's "Ad Hoc at Home". Armed with the limited number of vegetables that were available to me, this Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup fit the bill for different, tasty, and locally available Ohio fall vegetables.

I originally decided to make this for my wife, but after tasting it myself I was more inclined to stash it away for myself. Trying to taste this thing with your eyes does it no justice. The combination of the bacon fat, the small amount of mild curry, and the punch of the red wine vinegar really creates a satisfying taste to the dish.

When it's all done this soup is more like a quasi-chili than anything else. The lentils absorb nearly all of the stock so it ends up being fairly thick.

Is this the way Keller intended the soup to look like? I don't know. There wasn't a picture in the book, but I bet it came pretty close.

One last thing, don't forget to make some extra bacon. The crispy saltiness makes the perfect bite!

Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup
from Thomas Keller's "Ad Hoc at Home"

  • 8 oz. applewood-smoked bacon
  • 3 Tbsp canola oil
  • 2 C thinly sliced carrots
  • 2 C coarsely chopped leeks
  • ¾ to 1 tspn Yellow or Madras Curry Powder
  • Kosker salt
  • 1-½ lbs. sweet potatoes
  • 2 Sachets (1 bay leaf, 10 peppercorns, 1 peeled and smashed garlic clove, and 3 sprigs of thyme wrapped in cheesecloth)
  • 2 C (about 8oz.) Spanish Pardina or French de Puy lentils, small stones removed, rinsed
  • 8 C Chicken Stock
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Cilantro leaves

Cut the bacon into lardons that are 1 inch long and ½ inch thick.

Heat the canola oil in an 8 to 10 quart stockpot over medium heat. Add the bacon, reduce the heat to low, and render the fat for 20 to 25 minutes. The bacon should color but not crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and set aside.

Add the carrots, leeks, onions, and curry powder to the pot and stir to coat in the bacon fat. Season with salt, reduce the heat to low, cover with a parchment lid, and cook very slowly for 30 to 35 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Remove and discard to the parchment lid.

Meanwhile, peel the sweet potatoes. Trim them and cut them into a ½ inch dice. Put the potatoes, one of the sachets, and 2 teaspoons of salt in the large saucepan, add cold water to cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and spread on a tray to cool; discard the sachet.

Add the lentils, second sachet, and stock to the vegetables, bring to a simmer, and simmer for the 30 to 40 minutes *mine went every bit of 40 minutes*, until the lentils are tender. (At this point, the soup can be refrigerated for up to 2 day.)

Spread the bacon in a small frying pan and crisp over medium-high heat.

Add the vinegar to taste to the soup, then add the potatoes and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the soup garnished with the bacon and cilantro leaves.


  1. This looks delicious! We just did a tortilla soup the other day, now I think it's time for lentil and sweet-potato! It's winter; you can never have too much soup.

  2. That does look really good! I have a lot of homemade chicken stock in the freezer and that definitely looks like a good use for it. Where did you get the lentils? We've had a hard time finding anything but standard brown and red before.

    I might have to give Ad Hoc at Home a look sometime as well.

  3. I'm not as high on West Side Market as a lot of other Clevelanders are, but Urban Herbs has a pretty good selection of lentils. Beyond that, we basically go to WSM for skin-on pork belly and the cheese shop. Urban Herbs is the cat's ass.

  4. Thanks--I'll remember that. I get my pork belly at the WSM but haven't checked out the herbs (or lentils) there yet.

  5. Just made this at home--did not work for me??? I don't know maybe it's the leeks I used they were from my CSA very small but powerful.

  6. Interesting. Those leeks must pack a serious punch. With all of the other ingredients in the recipe the taste of the leeks shouldn't really come to the forefront. If any misstep was made in this dish I would have thought it'd be the doneness of the lentils.

    I'm sorry it didn't work out. I tried to make his chocolate chip cookies and they didn't turn out. I'm going to give them another go just because the concept seems like it SHOULD work so much better than my first try.