When I first started to experience the illuminating relationship between what I ate and how I felt, lentils became my first new friend, with brown rice a close second. At the time, I did my writing at a place called The Writers Room, an “urban writers colony,” in the Village in New York City. I would spend all day there and grab lunch at a health food deli across the street. Brown rice and lentils. Every day. Same thing. I loved it.
It’s the Italian tradition to eat lentils on New Years Eve and I wrote about in detail here. Lentils, the bean eaters say, resemble tiny coins, so ingesting them at midnight as the one year moves into the next is supposed to bring prosperity in the year to come. Far fetched, I know, but what’s the harm in trying? The wild rice in this version brings a great chewy element to the lentils, plus it makes it go further. Plus I just wrote a book on grainbowls so, yeah. There’s that. Here's to eating well and, if it just so happens, getting rich.
Lentil Soup with Wild Rice and Scallions
4 ounces prosciutto or bacon (optional), finely chopped (optional; fatty pork products are not everyone’s idea of dietary redemption, I know)
1 large Spanish yellow onion, diced
3 medium or large carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
5 or 6 peeled garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pound lentils (preferably French lentilles du Puy or Umbrian lentils), rinsed
2 bay leaves (fresh if you've got 'em)
2 tablespoons double concentrated tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can crushed Roma tomatoes
8 cups sodium-free chicken stock (or water), or as needed
Cooked wild rice
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
Best-quality extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
Pour enough olive oil in a big soup pot to coat it generously and heat it for a minute or 2 over medium heat just to warm it. Add the prosciutto, if you’re adding it, and cook over medium heat until the prosciutto is golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the onion, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of salt and cook for about 5 minutes until the onions begin to soften, stirring often so it doesn’t brown. Add the carrots, celery and garlic, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of salt, and cook for about 5 minutes, until the carrots, celery and garlic begin to soften and the onion is tender and translucent. Add the tomato paste, increase the heat to medium, and cook for a minute or 2 to caramelize it without burning it. Stir in the lentils and half of the stock. Increase the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour, until the lentils are cooked through, adding the remaining stock during the cooking process until you have added all 8 cups of the stock. Add more salt to taste.
To serve, spoon ¼ to ½ cup of rice into each bowl and ladle the soup over it. Scatter the scallions over the top and drizzle with the good oil.