I recently made a soup with French green lentils, which are slate colored with dark specks on them (they look like flattened capers). They hold there shape when cooked, unlike brown or red lentils and taste like, well, lentils, which taste like whatever you cook them in. They have their merrits- fine lentils indeed. But what I really love are Castelluccio lentils from Umbria, Italy. They grow on the Castelluccio plain, south of the Sibillini mountains, and ever since I cooked with some over a year ago, I haven't been able to find another type of lentil that's better, or even close to better. It's hard to explain. Yeah, they're really healthy (protein, fiber, etc) and they don't require any pre-soaking and cook in about 30 minutes- all good things. But the flavor of them is what sets them apart- delicate, nutty and slightly earthy.
I'm not versed on what's involved in growing lentils, but Castelluccio's have always been grown in an organic manner, even before the distinction of organic was around. They have a 'protected geographical indication' certification from the Italian Govt. and are worth searching out if you can find them. Specialty foods stores will carry them, but in the states you'll pay a pretty penny for them.
Whichever lentil you choose, this soup recipe is a good one. It's a blend of several different ones I've come across and can be vegetarian if you omit the pancetta (though, as usual, pork makes everything taste better). It also contains a spice called 'grains of paradise', which is from West Africa- it's similar to a peppercorn but with a floral quality. At one point in history they were a cheaper alternative to black peppercorns, but have since become somewhat of a rarity.
2 T olive oil
1 thick slick of pancetta, cut into chunks
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
2 t salt
1 pound lentils, picked and rinsed
1 cup peeled, chopped tomatoes
2 quarts of chickenstock (do yourself a favor and use homemade)
1/2 t freshly ground coriander
1/2 t freshly ground toasted cumin
1/2 t freshly ground grains of paradise
1/4 t freshly ground black peppercorns
fresh squeezed juice from half of a lemon
It's good to have the following on hand for garnishing:
a flavorful olive oil
some hot sauce (such as Piri Piri)
- heat a 6qt cast iron pot to medium
- add the oil, then the pancetta, onion, carrot, celery and salt. Sweat them until translucent
- add the lentils, tomatoes, broth and spices.
- allow it to come to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low and cook, mostly covered, until the lentils are tender (about 35-40 minutes).
- add the lemon juice and puree in batches to your desired consistency.
Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a touch of hot sauce, or some chopped cilantro and sour cream.