A Very Easy Soup…

I recently failed to make green split pea soup, because the plague of uncookability that’s affected GSPs across the world for the past few years has now affected the last bastion (as far as I know), of GSPs that perform properly in the pan** – the organic supply from Canada.

**Which is to say they absorb water, soften, swell, and collapse into a thick, silky-smooth mush, to which you then add more water to get your preferred consistency. Instead, they break down into inedible green grit, which thickens the liquid not at all and just lurks balefully at the bottom of the pan. Adding flour will thicken it, and it will look like pea soup, but it won’t taste like it.

So I gave up and made split red lentil soup, instead. And that didn’t work either. However, it turned out that this was my fault, after I’d had time to think.

I’d not made it for some years, having become obsessed with getting edible pea soup which, admittedly, I prefer and, being used to making it in a much smaller pan, I failed to scale up the recipe sufficiently, the result being a thin and not very tasty soup.

I decided to put that right.

In addition, as my health has taken a turn for the very much worse – in a post about food you really don’t want to know why, or see photos – I decided to simplify the recipe which, in the main, means simplifying and reducing the prep. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the prep – I have excellent knife skills (modest, too Winking smile ), and I always enjoy doing anything I do well. But prep means standing, and that I don’t do well – it’s pure agony. I have alarms set on my smartphone, using mp3 files; for my Oramorph (liquid morphine), all unknowing (I only listen to the intro to make sure it’s attention-grabbing), I chose the Sara Evans track “Big Cry” – very apposite!

So I went with a simpler recipe, using some pre-prepped ingredients, and you know what? It’s absolutely fine. You could also, if you wish, use pre-prepped onions too, but I went with my usual combination of pungent Echalion shallots and cooking onions. Aromatics are important and, while I’ve heard good things about pre-prepped (fresh or frozen), onions, I think freshness trumps convenience, for me, and for now, at least.

Or you could – and, you know, I really should myself – use a food processor, especially for a soup like this, where the veggies would be finely chopped anyway. I really don’t know why I don’t use it – the bloody thing is there, right in front of me, the whole time!

Whichever way you approach it, this is the recipe. As ever, it makes three litres. For this I used my new 4.5l pot, which allows me to make a full 3 litres without it slopping out when stirred. In addition, the base is thick enough for me not to need my heat diffuser, which saves on electricity. I must try making soup in my slow cooker, too.


500g organic split red lentils (rinse under the cold tap if dusty, otherwise leave them dry – this avoids them welding themselves into a solid block, which they do when wet)

500g Aunt Bessie’s frozen Carrot and Swede Mash, defrosted

3 or 4 Echalion shallots, depending on size, finely chopped (if no shallots, 4 or 5 onions)

2 or 3 cooking onions, ditto

(If using pre-prepped onions, about 400g feels about right. Defrost if frozen.)

2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon Schwartz garlic granules (optional if you don’t like garlic, but at this level you won’t taste it as a separate ingredient, but it will benefit the soup overall, as does the next one)

1 tablespoon Sharwood’s Rich Soy Sauce (soy sauce adds depth – it will not taste like a Chinese takeaway!)

2 organic Kallo vegetable stock cubes

2 rounded teaspoons Marigold Bouillon Powder

1 tablespoon HP Sauce

½ teaspoon celery salt (home-made, but Schwartz is good)

50g butter, clarified for preference (normally, I’d just say “a good knob” but this time I weighed it – it doesn’t have to be spot on, a little more or less isn’t critical, but now you’ll know what a “good knob of butter” looks like!

A good splash of olive oil. (Ha! OK, go with 2 tablespoons for now), plus more as needed

Maldon Sea Salt and Schwartz fine black pepper (in the end I added a quarter of a teaspoon of pepper, no salt, but did season the soup very lightly in the bowl with fine sea salt and white pepper)

2 level tablespoons plain flour (optional – see below NB: I use bread flour because that’s always to hand on the worktop, plus it mixes in smoothly, with less tendency to go lumpy)

As always, spoons are measuring spoons, not cutlery.

I don’t always specify brands in my recipes, but when I do it’s simply because they’re what I’ve found give the best results. They’re also widely available here in the UK, though I accept that in your country they might not be – go with your own experience. In addition I think it’s good for new readers, and kitchen novices, to include more detail from time to time


As when cooking any pulses, it’s vitally important not to add any salt at all, which includes stock cubes and concentrates, or any acidic ingredients, like tomatoes, as they impair the cooking of the pulses. Acidic items also affect root vegetables, too, and carrots might never soften.

So, sweat off the alliums, uncovered, in the butter and oil over a low heat, until soft but not coloured – they might go a pale gold, that’s OK, but not browned which changes the flavour.

Note: If using defrosted frozen onions, drain off any water, but retain it and add it later – it’ll be full of flavour.

When the alliums are soft, add the lentils (completely break up the lump if they’ve been washed – and I mean that – don’t leave any clumps), and stir until all are coated with butter and oil (add more oil if needed), turn up the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently – keep them moving, you want to heat them through, not fry them – for 10 minutes. Doing this gives you a smoother, and in my view, tastier, soup. You’d think that the fats would stop the lentils absorbing liquid, but no, it doesn’t happen.

So, after 10 minutes add everything else down to, and including, the garlic granules, including any liquid the previously frozen veggies have given off, add enough boiling water to cover – you’ll need to top it up in about 10 minutes, so put the kettle back on – stir well, bring to the boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer.

Check in 10 minutes, top up the water, stir, return to a simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently (about every 15 minutes – don’t let the lentils stick and burn).

When the lentils have collapsed, and the soup is very thick, add the rest of the ingredients (dissolve the stock cubes and Marigold in hot water first), add boiling water to 3 litres – the soup should now be the consistency of thick cream – sir well and cook off for about 15-20 minutes, continuing to stir as needed.

NB: If you want a lightly-spiced soup, this is the point to stir in a teaspoon or two of ground cumin (not coriander – way too strident for a gentle flavour like lentils).

After that time, the soup is actually finished, but there’s one more step that’s optional but that I always carry out – I add a little flour. This isn’t necessarily to thicken it, but left to its own devices, lentil soup will separate as it cools, and adding a little flour will prevent this. It will also thicken it, but only slightly.

So, let the soup cool a little (i.e. off the boil), put the flour into a screw-top jar, add about twice the volume of cold water and shake vigorously to mix. Dribble it into the soup stirring continuously – you might not need it all, so try half, bring back to the boil, still stirring, and allow it to thicken. It won’t thicken much, but it is perceptible, you don’t need to guess. If you’re happy, you’re done. If you’d like it thicker, repeat the process.

Even if you use all the flour the soup won’t be very thick, but if it should be, for any reason, thin it out with hot water to which you’ve added a little Marigold – about a level teaspoon to half a pint.

And you’re done. Allow it to cool and, when cold, stash in the fridge overnight to let the disparate components get it on in the dark, snuggle up, and really get to know each other. The soup will be all the better for it.

If you haven’t made lentil soup before, don’t be surprised, next day, to find that it’s almost solid enough to slice. If you don’t want to reheat the whole pot, take out a portion and reheat very gently, stirring frequently, and it will revert to its previous creamy smoothness.

If you do want to reheat the whole pot take it out of the fridge in the morning (for evening use), and allow it to come up to room temperature before putting it on the stove. You might be surprised how long this takes – soups hold on to the fridge chill for quite a while, and doing this saves on fuel and on stirring the damned thing! If thick soups have a downside, it’s that they need a lot of stirring. Worth it, though!

Three spoons. Not because it’s hard – technically it warrants one spoon – but because of all the stirring!

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2 thoughts on “A Very Easy Soup…

  1. This sounds gorgeous Ron! I do have one question – do red split lentils go off? I’ve had some in an air-tight tub at the back of the pantry for about three or four years and this sounds like a delicious way to use them up.

    (I also “get” your cooking style, I learned to cook “organically” – watching my mum and gran and being told to go and do the next step while someone chatted! My “go to” dish is a cottage pie, full of splishes and splashes of this and that, and my husband – lovely, but very scientific, made me make one once with him measuring everything. It took the fun out of it!)

    • Bet he’s a Delia fan! Bloody woman counts cranberries! My ex was like that, everything had to be written down in detail. Didn’t make any difference – turned out she was one of those people who can’t cook no matter what – there’s a lot of them about.

      Pulses don’t go off,as such, but they do take longer to cook the older they get. Cook the lentils in plain water. If they’re successful, make the rest of the soup and combine the two.

      You might find it needs more salt than I thought – my sense of taste is playing silly buggers again. Other than that, it’s fine.

      I’m about to cook a kilo of giant Spanish butter beans (Judion da la Granja), 6 months past their date – they’ll be fine too. It’s a two day process – 24-hour soak followed by 8 hours in the slow cooker with some carrot and onion. Should give me at least 2kg of cooked beans plus two batches of stock, both for the freezer.

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