Smoked Hock and Lentil Soup
Lentils have been on the menu in my family for generations. My mother always kept packs of green/brown and red lentils in the larder. She made beautiful soups with them, and a hearty lentil stew which I didn't really appreciate the flavour of until I was in my twenties. Similarly, smoked pork hock featured often on mum's Hungarian repertoire, mostly in soups, such as bean soup or lentil soup; and sometimes with cabbage rolls.
As I write this post, it's pouring with rain outside and I am reminded about walking home from school on rainy winter days. Mum never learned to drive and my father was at work, so there was no such thing as the luxury of being driven home. The only time my father picked me up from school (very occasionally) was to take me to piano lessons, which I hated at the time. I was taught by nuns and the curriculum was ever so boring. Did I really need to learn how to play 'Song of the Volga Boatmen'?! Not to mention that I didn't enjoy having my hands slapped by Mother Superior if I made a mistake during 'pianoforte' examinations! Besides, she smelled, too. But I digress.
Arriving home from school on a rainy winter's day was always delicious. Our little house was warmed by north-facing windows and the Rayburn wood heater. And mum always had a bowl of soup and crusty bread waiting for me. I would step out of my wet Bata ponytails and grey tunic and into my dressing gown and slippers. Was I spoilt? Not with material things, as such. But my mum and dad did always pamper me and my siblings with love and good, nourishing food!
Each and every one of us deserves some self-indulgent pampering from time to time. What we need at the end of a rainy winter day is a hot bath, pyjamas and a bowl of soul-satisfying soup. This smoked hock and lentil soup is one of the favourites at our place during winter. Make the soup a day ahead and it will taste even better (more so, since you won’t have to cook!).
300g lentils*, rinsed and drained
1 brown onion or 2 French escallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
1-2 sticks baby celery, diced
1 rack smoked bacon bones or a smoked hock
1 can Italian tomatoes, chopped
2 litres water or vegetable stock
a few peppercorns
parsley for garnish
Place the hock or bacon bones into a deep stock pot, together with the onions, garlic, carrot, celery, lentils and peppercorns. Add the can of peeled, chopped tomatoes and cover with the water or vegetable stock.
Bring to the boil, then pop a lid onto the pan, reduce heat and simmer very gently for 1-2 hours until the lentils are tender and the meat is falling off the bones (slice into the hock with a sharp knife to allow the flavours to infuse into the soup). Serve the soup with chunks of meat and crusty, fresh bread. Garnish with parsley. Serves 4-6.
* Use organic French green lentils or black Beluga lentils in preference to ordinary brown lentils. Both have an earthy flavour and will hold their texture and shape, rather than cooking to mush.
The smallest of the lentil family, Black Beluga lentils are a tiny black lentil with an earthy flavour and lovely texture. I love the colour of these lentils, especially in a salad.
Were you spoiled as child? What's your favourite winter indulgence?
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