About three years ago I had the pleasure of travelling across western Queensland with the food writer Matthew Evans, on a food writing tour. We drove 800km inland under flat blue skies into cotton country, where green fields stretched into an endless horizon and at every door we were greeted with fresh scones.
After trading in his life as a Sydney food critic, these days Matthew lives on a small farm in Tasmania with his partner and son, where he grows his own veges and raises pigs. Matthew believes in good food – fresh seasonal ingredients grown yourself or sourced from your local farmers market. He believes that mass-produced food and industrial farming sacrifices both quality and ethics. During the many hours spent driving across Queensland, listening to his passion for, and knowledge of, food and food production, it was hard not to agree.
Matthew’s The Real Food Companion is a testament to his food philosophy. The recipes and ingredients are mostly simple, with the focus being on slow cooking to maximise the flavours. Though Matthew uses a little too much meat for my tastes, I respect his ethical and sustainable approach to eating meat, and have found that many of his recipes can be easily adapted to be vegetarian.
This Lemon & Lentil soup is adapted from Matthew’s, with a few tweaks here and there, and the addition of some toppings to spice things up. You’ll get more salsa verde and pepitas from the recipe than is needed for the soup, but both will keep and are great stirred through salads, or mixed in with roast veges. And a quick note on lentils – I’ve made this soup before using brown lentils instead of green and although it was still quite tasty, the brown lentils go a lot mushier in the cooking, changing the texture. I know puy lentils aren’t as easy to come across, but most health food stores should have them and they are well worth sourcing.
I made this soup last week for Sunday lunch because S was sick, and Brisbane is starting to really feel the winter. We ate it in our sunny lounge room with slices of fresh pumpkin bread – even W enjoyed it! It is a hearty and warming bowl, earthy with a bright spring of lemon, nourishing and delicious and the perfect mid-winter lunch or dinner.
Lemon & Lentil Soup
Adapted from Matthew Evans
3 – 4 garlic cloves
3 – 4 sprigs fresh thyme
300 grams potatoes
1 cup puy (green) lentils
1 litre vegetable stock
Salt & pepper, to taste
Juice of 1 – 2 lemons, to serve
Yoghurt, to serve (optional)
Extra-virgin olive oil, to serve
1 generous handful mint leaves
1 generous handful dill
1 generous handful parsley
1 clove garlic
60ml extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup pepitas
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp salt
2 tsp lemon juice
Start by preparing all of your vegetable. Dice the onion, slice the leek, finely chop the garlic, and cut the potato into small cubes.
Heat a glug of of olive oil in a big heavy-bottomed pot and throw the onion and leek in, cooking for up to ten minutes until they start to soften. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for a further 5 – 6 minutes. Throw in the potato and lentils, along with the stock, and season with salt & pepper. Bring the soup to a boil then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 45 – 60 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through. If the soup gets too thick or porridge-like during cooking, go ahead and add some extra stock (or water).
In the meantime, heat the oven to 200°c/400°f. In a bowl toss the pepitas through with the spices and the lemon juice. Lay in a single layer on a tray lined with baking paper and bake in the preheated oven for 8 – 10 minutes, until the pepitas are fragrant. Set aside to cool.
Prepare the salsa verde by tossing the herbs, garlic and olive oil into a food processor and processing until finely chopped and well combined. If it’s too thick, pour in a little extra oil.
When the soup is ready ladle it into bowls, adding a tablespoon of lemon juice to each bowl and stirring through. Serve with a dollop of salsa verde, a spoonful of yoghurt (if using), a sprinkling of spiced pepitas and a drizzle of olive oil.
Enjoy hot, with a slice of fresh crusty bread.